Jean Rohe's graduation speech



Jean Rohe was the speaker at the New School graduation before John McCain. Many of the students were understandably outraged that the president of the school, Bob Kerrey -- a war criminal -- invited McCain to speak at the graduation. His right wing ideology has nothing to do with the progressive history of the New School.

She has a post about her experience, including the text of her speech, at The Huffington Post.

Some excerpts are below:

It's been noted in several columns that anti-McCain sentiment coming from the left may actually help him to garner support from the conservatives by giving him the opportunity to paint us as extremist liberals, so we should all keep our mouths shut. I say we need some "extremist liberals" if we're ever going to get our democracy back. Others have said that he's a moderate at heart and that we should let him continue pandering to the religious right so he can get the vote. Once he gets into office he'll show his true colors and be the centrist he always was. I don't buy that. People who truly care about human beings don't vote for an unjust war, among other things, simply as a political maneuver. Enough said.

More importantly, I feel obligated to respond to one thing that McCain told the New York Times. "I feel sorry for people living in a dull world where they can't listen to the views of others," he said. This is just preposterous. Yes, McCain was undoubtedly shouted-out and heckled by people who were not politely absorbing his words so as to consider them fully from every angle. But what did he expect? We could've all printed out his speech and chanted it with him in chorus. Did he think that no one knew exactly what he was about to say? And it was precisely because we listen to the views of others, and because, as I said in my speech, we don't fear them, that we as a school were able to mount such a thorough and intelligent opposition to his presence. Ignorant, closed-minded people would not have been able to do what we did. We chose to be in New York for our years of higher education for the very reason that we would be challenged to listen to opposing viewpoints each and every day and to deal with that challenge in a nonviolent manner. We've gotten very good at listening to the views of others and learning how to also make our views heard, even when we don't have the power of national political office and the media on our side.

Here is the conclusion of her speech:

What is interesting and bizarre about this whole situation is that Senator Mc Cain has stated that he will be giving the same speech at all three universities where he has been invited to speak recently, of which ours is the last; those being Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Columbia University, and finally here at the New School. For this reason I have unusual foresight concerning the themes of his address today. Based on the speech he gave at the other institutions, Senator Mc Cain will tell us today that dissent and disagreement are our "civic and moral obligation" in times of crisis. I consider this a time of crisis and I feel obligated to speak. Senator Mc Cain will also tell us about his cocky self-assuredness in his youth, which prevented him from hearing the ideas of others. In so doing, he will imply that those of us who are young are too naïve to have valid opinions and open ears. I am young, and although I don't profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that preemptive war is dangerous and wrong, that George Bush's agenda in Iraq is not worth the many lives lost. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, Senator Mc Cain will tell us that we, those of us who are Americans, "have nothing to fear from each other." I agree strongly with this, but I take it one step further. We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet. Fear is the greatest impediment to the achievement of peace. We have nothing to fear from people who are different from us, from people who live in other countries, even from the people who run our government--and this we should have learned from our educations here. We can speak truth to power, we can allow our humanity always to come before our nationality, we can refuse to let fear invade our lives and to goad us on to destroy the lives of others. These words I speak do not reflect the arrogance of a young strong-headed woman, but belong to a line of great progressive thought, a history in which the founders of this institution play an important part. I speak today, even through my nervousness, out of a need to honor those voices that came before me, and I hope that we graduates can all strive to do the same.

[image from The Huffington Post]


Such intelligent words! I need to print out and save that last paragraph

It is a great pleasure to realize our youth has intelligence and integrity. We will need ALL the help we can get to win back our country from the corrupt theives that stole it.

The last sentence in the first paragraph of the conclusion contradicts the beginning of the second paragraph. Why would we care about finding Osama bin Laden if "We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet"? I think this is a very naive view of the world we live in. I wish her statements could be supported by the reality of our times, but it is not and will likely never be. There will always be people that do not share this progressive view, but would prefer to attack it and create a world that favours their interests to the exclusion of others.

It is unfortunate that this New School graduate has not learned how to properly treat an invited guest. She may wish to reenroll for a class on etiquette.

Elan, I don't consider disagreeing with McCain's positions a breach of etiquette. She didn't insult the man personally, unlike some of McCain's supporters' behavior towards Ms. Rohe.

I don't think Ms. Rohe was inconsistent. She isn't saying there is no evil in the world, or no bad people. She is saying that we can't say entire groups of people -- by race, location, or religion -- are our enemies. The right seems not to be able to understand this distinction, nor do many of our politicians.

As example, all of you are lumping the things yelled from the audience in with what her speech said.

That kind of thinking is more suitable for a totalitarian state than a supposed republic. It also leads to the kind of thinking that military might and threats are our only foreign policiy tools.

The last paragraph sounds truly beautiful and charming but I hate to say that it is extremely far from the truth today. Just to put one of the many examples there are, I do feel fear of the president of Iran, he is detrermined to get nuclear weapons and not only hates the US but he has also said that he would like to 'destroy' a country like isreal.
If this doesn't make you feel fear the go on supporting that beautiful and daydreamer's speech

Tomas, read my comment above yours. I interpreted it as saying we accomplish nothing by being in fear, or having hatred, of entire groups of people or countries. It's ridiculous to say that the USA has no tools other than military power in the world. Given the behavior of the Bush regime, though, we're losing all diplomatic tools except that one.

@ Elan,

Osama nor the weapons haven't been found yet, but people get killed on a daily basis. It's insulting to suggest, as the US government does, that Osama CANNOT be found. These two are used as arguments for the killings and destruction to be continued and all for the sake of oil and imeprialism, nothing more. Such behaviour triggers contra effects, i.e. raises fury in the countries the US is trying to "tame" into liberalism and democracy. This fury is endangering the whole of the western civilization. If you keep telling people that they should be scared (of some nut case half way across the globe), manipulating them into fear, you'll raise hysteria and get licence to kill and destroy... "THE ENEMY". It's basic political manipulation strategy.

@ Barry

Of course there is reason to fear. I can't help but wonder, however, whether this would be the case if the US, or the West, haven't been invading those eastern countries for so long. The fear is perpetuating.... Or do you think it strange that they now react the way they do? Hm. If you can accept having to fear and thus destroy some country most of American citizens can't even find on a map, I suppose your reaction to an invasion on your own land would be calm and timid.

This is about action and reaction. Being shortsighted will not help anyone's fears become unfounded.

sorry, the second comment was for Tomas, not Barry. I apologize.

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