Mr. Nader pointed out last night that it was the first alternative commencement that he had been invited to speak at. A Google search reveals that it’s probably one of just a very small few. It just happened to be at my — not alma mater; what do you call a school you dropped out of? — which also remains pretty nearby.
In case you missed the ordeal by either not living in Utah or not paying attention, what happened was that Brigham Young University invited Vice President Dick Cheney to speak at its commencement. Cheney accepted. The difference between this and the Michael Moore debacle a couple years ago was, of course, that this wasn’t merely a guest speaker. Cheney was who the University was putting forward as the role model on whose words the graduating class would be released into the world. Considering the fact that many (though, admittedly, probably less per capita in Utah County) consider Cheney a criminal and a key player in everything that’s gone wrong in the last few years (which if you haven’t been paying attention, is a whole hell of a lot), there were objections raised.
Utah’s about as red as any of these United States get, due largely to its immense Mormon majority. However, nowhere in the Church’s doctrine does one find a direct endorsement of one political ideology over another. There is the dissenting minority that finds that their religious views sync better with progressive values than conservative. As much of what BYU does is often considered a direct extension of the Church itself (and thereby God), such a divisive, pretty much evil figure was found to be distasteful. Understandable.
So the dissenters took matters into their own hands. And the alternatives were very much alternatives: Ralph Nader, civil rights legend Jack Healey, and Pete Ashdown. Pete Ashdown gave a nice little commencement speech. Jack Healey (who I regret to report I had not heard of till his name came up as a speaker) gave an impassioned and moving speech about moral imperatives.
Ralph Nader was very much into the idea of an alternative commencement. So much so, that he just ran with it. Single-payer health care, election reform, energy conservation, natural energy sources, corporate greed, unchecked consumerism, labor issues, the broken status of the two-party system, et al. Among them, nary a view that would be popular in the likes of Utah County. It felt more like a political rally than a commencement speech. It? Was awesome.
A commencement isn’t the sort of thing I’m naturally inclined to go to. Most speeches tend to be what Cheney’s apparently was: just hot air. Meaningless clichés and dull inspirational anecdotes. But this was truly an alternative. In every since of the word.
All of this came a few days after my favorite will-never-be-President Presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich, introduced a resolution to impeach Cheney. And there are rallies nationwide tomorrow for impeachment calls. Let’s hope this gets us somewhere*.
*It probably won’t. But I try to take my stabs at optimism from time to time.