November 27, 2020

Guest Commentary: Commencement 2011


There’s been quite a bit of discussion over whether or not there should even be a protest at commencement this year. My response is that I get it. I get that it might be disruptive to others in the audience. I get that it seems (to some people) like the wrong time, or the wrong place. I understand the arguments about disrespect, and the decision process, and why he was chosen, and so on.
We all get it, and we’re moving forward with a demonstration that has adapted to this discourse while still holding on to the things we feel are most important.
In short, Senator Bond held a position where the decisions he made mattered; he created laws and policy, and those things trickle down to create culture. His decisions have the power to shape individuals for success or failure, and they have a lasting effect on how people are treated in formal and informal interactions.
In some cases, Senator Bond supported laws and policies that place government-sanctioned discredits upon some individuals, based on their personal characteristics. He made these decisions over and over and over again, and it’s extremely difficult to ignore that the populations Senator Bond discredits were most often non-whites, non-heterosexuals, social welfare recipients, women, and immigrants.
That’s not okay.
The demonstration on May 7th is not, “Stand up if you think that Senator Kit Bond is a bad person!” It’s not about being better, or more enlightened than him. Nothing about this demonstration is vindictive or spiteful and none of us are here to show Senator Bond “to his face” that there’s something fundamentally wrong with who he is.
The demonstration is about believing that diversity is a privilege of the human condition and its lessons are invaluable. It’s about hoping our politicians and CEOs will all soon understand that there is no such thing as ranking human value. It’s about standing up and identifying yourself as an ally, as a supporter, and as someone who others can look to (or remember) for confidence if they feel targeted.
Further, it is a commitment to non-discrimination in your personal and professional life and a promise to use your voice to identify oppressions when they are being over-looked. It’s proof that you have learned that our world is smaller and more connected than we think it is, and there is no ethical explanation for excluding some identities from access to the parts of it that can be shared.
The plan is very simple: display an “equal” sign. Do it any way you want. Preferably, one attached to your cap. Use glitter or duct tape or fabric or paper scrap. Be-dazzle the crap out of that thing, or simply print one off in black and white and attach it with tape or glue. Any font, size 700 or higher, printed horizontally, will look great. Use a Sharpie to draw it on your hand. Make a huge poster. Shave it into your head. Make it yours – your statement.
Are we standing? Yes, I will be. Do you have to? Not necessarily. Standing is bold. You decide if that’s important to you, but imagine the possibility of an entire graduating class, standing, with all of our differences between us, behind one statement that we can all agree on. With this demonstration, we can scream volumes of wisdom without saying a word and still listen respectfully to what Senator Bond will say.
The demonstration is very simple, although the “equal” sign requires forethought on the part of participants. This, to me, makes the message sent by each individual more meaningful.
Our idea is a culmination of several weeks of conversation. Students of all majors and interests, professors and staff, alumni, and administrators have contributed their opinions. The power of listening, and of alternative perspectives, is evident when we look at how our message has been modified from the (often) irrational and (sometimes) hateful spews on Facebook when news of our keynote speaker was first released, into something that is well thought-out and soundly supported.
If you need some inspiration for your capthere are examples of caps on the protest pages on Facebook. Search: “Kit Bond Webster” and several pages will pop up. If you aren’t wearing a cap and gown and still want to participate (or you find yourself finishing finals up until an hour before the ceremony and do not get to put something on your cap), please, stand with us. And thank you, in advance, for your solidarity.
Our differences must be named as important, and not used as something to determine who receives what privileges.

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