Friday, April 27, 2007

BYU Graduation -- The Day After

Near as I could judge, the visit of US Vice President Dick Cheney at the BYU commencement ceremonies had to be one of the most overhyped non-events in the history of BYU.

The ominous rumblings about massive protests failed to materialize anywhere within sight. I suppose something might have been happening elsewhere, but on campus it looked just about like any other graduation day. Lots of graduates flapping around in their cap and gown. Proud parents and family gathering for picnics and photos. Crying babies (might be a more common feature at BYU than at other campuses).

The commencement program went off as planned, without interruption. The only unexpected surprise to members of the audience was the attendance of President Hinckley. He presided over the program, which included presentation of an honorary degree to Vice President Cheney and four others.

I've looked over some of the press coverage of the protests and rallies that were intended to make some kind of political statement, mostly for consumption by the hordes of media people who flocked into town looking for "news". I presume that what the media people found was what they sought -- a few hundred exceptional and miserable malcontents shouting slogans at each other off in some corner, away from all the other BYU students who were celebrating the day. By contrast, BYU President Samuelson reported that more than 6000 graduates participated in the orderly and otherwise rather unremarkable commencement, with more than 20,000 in attendance.

I thought it was interesting that the First Presidency also invited Vice President Cheney to visit with them before the commencement ceremony, in a private meeting.

I have been really entertained by most of the press coverage and attention-getting theatrics of this issue. It has been way better than any talk show. Even better than the last BYU protest I was involved in.

I was especially amused to note that the “alternative” ceremonieswere all timed to take place _after_ the real commencement ritual. Even BYU political protesters didn’t want to miss out on their own graduation.

I personally don’t see the point. I did not attend my own graduation ceremony at University of California. They sent my diploma in the mail. At that point in time, I had everything I ever wanted of beneficent gifts bestowed by my Alma Mater. I just wanted to get away from there.

Incidentally, the last BYU protest I was personally involved in was the occasion of the departure from the BYU faculty of a certain Assistant Professor, by the name of Cecilia. Those of you with good memories will know of whom I speak.

On that occasion, I also sided with BYU trustees.

BYU President Samuelson announced the awarding of honorary degrees and read the curriculum vitae for each of the recipients. President Hinckley sat just behind the speakers podium, and applauded each of the awards. Elders David Bednar and Richard G. Scott sat between vice president Cheney and President Hinckley.

President Hinckley and Vice President Cheney walked into the Marriot Center together, both waving at an obviously friendly and enthusiastic crowd.

As far as I know, President Hinckley’s appearance yesterday was unannounced and a total surprise to most of those in attendance. As he entered, spontaneous applause quickly spread through the audience. He waved his cane in response.

It was a moment of joyous exultation. If I’d had a white handkerchief, I would have waved it.

To be honest, I almost neglected to note the entrance of Vice President Cheney, following right behind President Hinckley and the two apostles in his company. Cheney might just as well have been absent, for all the attention he got at that moment

I personally will interpret President Hinckley’s leadership at this meeting as reaffirmation from church leaders that they continue to support our US government leaders.

The commencement ceremonies were totally unremarkable in every respect. The speakers addressed issues relating to BYU, graduation, and the challenges of life. Cheney’s address itself was brief and entertaining. My impression, as on previous occasions, is that he is an accomplished public speaker.

I saw no indication to justify the notion that church leaders or BYU administrators were attempting to be “silent” about their continuing patriotic support and loyalty, as some have suggested. It is obvious that they are not “speaking out against the administration” of Bush and company because they have no substantive criticism. I cannot understand why anyone would reasonably imagine otherwise.

The strongest impression I had at the commencement ceremony was that this occasion is _not_ a political statement. Nobody is announcing official church sanction of wars or government officials. I am certain that Cheney did not obtain absolution for his sins from the church leaders.

Rather than hearing political themes, what I saw and heard was a unanimous expression of approval for the intergenerational process at BYU that produces college-educated people. BYU perpetuates family traditions in higher education. The most important people in attendance — families. Graduates and their spouses and children. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings.

It was not an occasion to make critical remarks about political issues. It was a family celebration.

As a side note, Hugh Nibley’s disparaging remarks about robes and vestments is well taken. I have attended dozens of graduation ceremonies in the last three decades, and this aspect always seems to lend a dark and foreboding air. Why doesn’t academia dispense with this cumbersome artifact from the dark ages?


Dennis said...

I watched with interest the recent "debate" between Sean Hannity and Rocky Andersen. I would have to say that Sean was better in his presentation than "Ross", but that's just my opinion. What struck me most was Sean's approach that Rocky had no answer for. That approach was if Rocky is demanding impeachment from Bush, then why isn't he also demanding impeachment from all the Deomocrats who supported Bush in starting the war and who continue to support the war despite their rhetoric to the contrary. No answer from Ross - only the strange sounds of crickets breaking the silence. He made a lame effort to respond, but it was pretty pathetic. Ross "Rocky" Andersen is a great example of liberal hipocracy.

Jim Cobabe said...


If only the political/legal/entertainment scene was that reasonable. It isn't at all funny that the Bush administration takes all the blame for actions that were unequivocally and universally ratified at the time the commitment was made. Now Rocky and company want to impeach.

The impeachment idea is just a publicity stunt, something for lawyers to feign excitement over. I suppose they all know it is just a sham. Time will tell.