At Swarthmore College Commencement, Liberal Political Correctness Wins Out


Apparently, a connection to the Bush administration and the World Bank warrants enough disapproval to label a man the "architect" of the Iraq war by protesters.

Such was the title that a protesting Facebook group pinned on Robert Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank and deputy Secretary of State, after he was invited to speak at his alma matter’s 2013 commencement ceremony.

Zoellick issued a statement to the president of Swarthmore College, in which he declined an honorary degree and the invitation to speak on grounds that he did not wish to disrupt what "should be a special day for the graduates, their families, and friends." He also claimed that he has no "interest in participating in an unnecessarily controversial event."

It is truly frightening when a difference of opinion or ties to a certain presidency merits such as outrage as to prevent someone with a differing opinion from speaking at an institute of higher education. Have we become so polarized that we fail to respect the differing opinions of others? Do we not remember that our nation was founded on ideals that promote free speech and encourage disagreement in public discourse?

Zoellick is not the first conservative speaker to be heavily protested by politically opposed students. Recently, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine drew complaints, in the form of a petition, from students and faculty members due to his comments about same-sex marriage and the Obama administration's health care proposals.

While a commencement ceremony may not be an appropriate venue to introduce controversial or hotly debated ideas, we should be able to trust that established intellectuals such as Zoellick or Dr. Carson would have the tact to be encouraging and respectful of celebratory events when crafting the content of their address. A difference of opinion ought not to be a cause for protest. Rather, we should be proud of our founder's design for the promotion of free speech, despite political correctness or the possibility that others may disagree.

While our beliefs may not coincide with everything Dr. Carson or Zoellick says or does, difference in opinion alone is no reason to bar or protest them from speaking. We ought to encourage dialogue and disagreement, for that is what makes us a nation of free speech. We must defend the first amendment, and in this case, the ideals associated with it. 

Regardless of politics, there is something to be learned from accomplished women and men. When one shares an opinion that you politically disagree with, rather than protest it, consider and use it to question and evaluate your own beliefs. If your position is firm and correct, then you will fail to be wavered. If your position is shaky, then you will reconsider it. Either way, you learn and can become one who is firmer in your system of belief.

Listening to those with differing opinions also gives insight into their understanding. If you find an opinion to be offensive or counterproductive, listen to the position, and then better craft your counterargument.

Let us be more welcoming of disagreement and opinions or beliefs that offend us; for it is likely to be through discourse that we learn more about those very disagreements and come a better understanding of the nature of those beliefs.