Saturday, April 30, 2011

White and Delightsome

Graduation yesterday at Utah Valley University. Although I skipped my own graduation ceremonies, figuring that what I had learned was enough for me, I have enjoyed attending the graduations of my own students, pleased to get to shake their hands and congratulate them and celebrate their hard work and accomplishment.

This graduation was one I'd been anticipating for over four years. When Najib Niazi arrived at what was then UVSC from Afghanistan, sponsored by Scott Carrier, for whom he had translated during the war, he brought me a chapan that looks a lot like the three chapans worn by the men at the left (photo from a Swedish blog). I told Najib that I would wear it when he graduated. Yesterday I wore the chapan as I lined up with my faculty colleagues in their colorful academic robes, proud of Najib and happy to see him wave and smile as he passed by the faculty with his fellow students.

The morning was spoiled by the graduation speech given by teary-eyed Dr. Robert C. Gay, CEO of Huntsman Gay Global Capital (and former colleague of Mitt Romney in Bain Capital).

We (and by we I mean the Atheists and Methodists and Muslims and Mormons and Buddhists and Catholics and so many others at our state University) were assaulted by a simpering millionaire who intimated that Africans do not treat children charitably and that they know nothing about service unless they are taught by the millionaire Mormon's Eagle Scout son. He said that the deviations of a secular world will lead us astray, that pitiful liberals at Harvard censored the printed version of Mother Teresa's commencement address about abortion as murder, that Jesus is the way.

I squirmed and cursed and wrote pointed obscenities in my notebook as I thought about Najib and his Muslim friends and family-to-be who were sitting in the audience.

While Mr. Gay pretended to be Mother Teresa, they sat there dumbfounded.

As did I.

Najib, please accept my heartfelt apology. Najib, this celebrated man, this captain of capitalism, this philanthropic Mormon, this man of power and wealth -- this man is simply uneducated.

Take your honors B.S. in Business, take your MBA, if that's what you choose, take the fine education that you already have, and make more of it than this man has. Huck Finn, whom you met and wrote about in the class with me and Alex and Scott, is a much finer model for a good life.

While you do that, charitable man that you are, I'll look into the world through the less charitable face of the man to the right of the photo and think angrily about the man who brought his shameful disrespect into our celebration.


Stephen Brown said...

Is it your theory that a speaker should speak upon others' life experiences, rather than his own? Should he eliminate the personal and only speak abstractly about life? If Nelson Mandela were the commencement speaker, would you expect him to mention nothing about his struggles, hardships and fears, drawing only from the writings of others for his remarks?

If I were elsewhere on this continent for graduation exercises, listening to a speaker with different beliefs than my own, I would glean from his speech whatever value and counsel I could derive without having to wrestle or agonize over the nitty gritty details or conflicting religious beliefs, and I have the feeling that your student can do the same mental gymnastics without taking offense over someone's else's sincere effort to motivate a body of students into looking beyond themselves and their own gratifications for making most of their education.

michael morrow said...

let me assure Mr. Brown that, having had the privilege of several classes with Scott Abbott, he is one of the finest men, not to mention one of the finest educators, at UVU...You might do well to sit down and have a conversation with him.

thank you Scott for integrity, clarity in your thoughts and courage to express ideas often controversial...Thank you for demonstrating what education means in spite of the accepted business model in place in our current educational philosophy....Unfortunately, learning how to learn takes a back seat to learning how to get a job...

Anonymous said...

Robert Gay's speech left me embarrassed and offended. I love UVU and our efforts to be inclusive. But inclusion evaporated on Friday, replaced with the stench of religious self-righteousness and insensitivity. Thank you for sharing Najib's story with us. I was moved to tears of joy for his successes and tears of sorrow that his years at UVU would conclude with such an awful ceremony.

Van said...

Other opinions are fine. I celebrate that. But, having a graduation ceremony hijacked by anti-choice extremist rhetoric, white-supremacist colonialism deluxe, and "let's-add-tears-so-people-know-I-am-sincere" religious testimony is not okay. Especially not when it actually condemns people who have worked hard to graduate. As I have spoken to several people about the ceremony since then I have learned that this speech went miles and miles further than what the late LDS president Hinkley said in his commencement address some years ago at UVSC. I share Scotts sorrow in that this had to be the speech that marked the finest moment of 4000 students undergraduate experience.

Ash Johnsdottir said...

Thank you so much for this. I hated his speech too.

Kat said...

Sitting there listening to his lengthy comments angered me deeply as well as adding anxiety to the day that my non-LDS, non-caucasian, non-Utah family came to share with me. I would have walked out if I it wouldn't have involved crawling out of the middle of my row. I absolutely changed my experience and tamped my joy over graduating next to my husband and friends. Commencement speakers all bring their own 'twist' to the speech but this was over the top. I think even the progressive LDS student would be offended too. He hijacked our day without regard (and I swear it was more than an hour long too).

Lisa B said...

Bringing your own twist to a commencement speech is one thing…making a clearly heavy handed religious speech is another… If my commencement speaker would have been a clergy or a religious leader I would have expected such a religious speech, had I been graduating from a religious or church college I would have expected a religious speech. But instead, I was naïve and eager; expecting to hear a speech about the business world, about how the recession is receding on the beaches of our lives and how the exposed sunny sands of time are working for our good. Instead I was admonished to never have an abortion, which by the way Mr. Gay, abortion is a legal option to an unwanted pregnancy. At that moment I wanted to stand up and shout, “Excuse me Mr. Gay, have you ever been pregnant, have you ever been pregnant and single and unemployed? Have you ever been pregnant and had the potential for that pregnancy to ruin your life?”…but I was too timid to express my thoughts AND rights in such an unusual arena.

Also during this commencement speech I was told that Africans need an eagle scout to teach them to care for each other, (really?) and I was otherwise bombarded with his tearful religious ‘testimony’. I too would have got up and walked out if I wouldn’t have had to crawl over my fellow class-mates. I too sat next to my husband and son as we graduated together, all with Bachelor Degrees, all 3 of us cringed in our seats for our non-lds families who didn’t come to hear a religious sermon and be blasted with this man’s view of morality. My glorious beautiful day, the day I had waited for and kept marching and sometimes trudging for so long, was marred by this sermon from the pulpit from my state-run school. Booh….

Anonymous said...

I agree with Stephen Brown and I thought your comments of Mr. Gay's speech were deplorable and wrong. He speaks truth and you squirm. That should tell you something. Shame on you! He is a good man and it is very educated. This is just another reason I am glad to be rid of that odious school. If someone teaches morality and capitalism, you get angry and attack his mental capacity. How is that not infintile?
If you want a speech to hate, try the one given in the Behavioral Science convocation by the philosophy student. He spent the time telling us we were evil for eating meat. Is that supposed to be enlightening and intelligent?

Anonymous said...

I'm disgusted and ashamed of Dr Gay's comments. Absolutely disgusted.