December 17, 2001
President comments on commencement ceremonies
This past weekend, we had two commencements.
The first was on Friday and included students from the Colleges
of Education, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Social
Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies.
The second commencement was on Saturday and included graduates
from the Colleges of Business Administration, Arts and Letters,
Health and Human Services, and Engineering and Computer Sciences.
It is about that second commencement that I write to you.
The invited speaker at that commencement was Ms. Janis Besler
Heaphy, the Publisher and President of the Sacramento Bee.
Ms. Heaphy is an individual with a distinguished background
in publishing. She has been with the Sacramento Bee for four
years and prior to that was a senior vice president with the
Los Angeles Times.
Ms. Heaphy chose to address the graduates about the essence
of American freedom and civil liberties and the relationships
of these to the events of September 11. As she got into the
substance of her remarks, she was questioning various acts
of the U.S. government relating to our judicial system, the
retention of suspects, and freedom of the media, among other
matters. The audience became restless and some booing and
heckling broke out. At that point I intervened and called
upon the audience to maintain the kind of respect for a speaker
that everyone in the audience would want to have others maintain
for them. The audience quieted down for the most part. A minute
or two later, Ms. Heaphy made a point that a number of students
apparently supported and then broke out in moderate applause.
At this point, those in the audience who had been rude and
interrupting broke out in what a newspaper reporter called
"a chant clap," a phrase new to me. Again, I went
to the rostrum. Ms. Heaphy said to me that she did not wish
to continue. She had completed about three-quarters of her
remarks. She returned to her seat.
I turned to the audience and said to them that today is about
our graduates. Speakers at a commencement have a right to
be heard, and our graduates have a right to hear them. I believe
I said that in my many years of experience as a president,
I had never seen behavior like this at a commencement, and
it was the kind of behavior I will never forget. The commencement
It should be very clear that it was the audience-the invited
guests of the graduates-who interrupted the address. Our students
were respectful with only a few exceptions, and they behaved
well. We can be proud of them. As the students went through
the line to receive their certificates of completion, a number
of them came to the foot of the platform to say to Ms. Heaphy
that they appreciated her remarks and her courage. One student
brought a written message signed by a group of students expressing
apology and regret at the behavior of the audience.
At the end of the ceremony, I commented that today is a day
of joy and exuberance for the graduates, and all of us can
join in congratulating them. I announced that on Monday morning,
the University would post on its website the thoughtful and
full text of the commencement address for those graduates
who were denied the opportunity to hear it in its fullness
and for others in the audience who wished to read it.
After the commencement, I read the full text. It is, in my
judgment, not only thoughtful but exceedingly responsible
in today's world. What was not responsible was the behavior
of a clearly limited but noisy group in the audience. I would
note that Arco Arena was more full than I have ever seen it
for a commencement ceremony. The noisy and rude ones deprived
the majority of those there and certainly our graduates from
hearing a thoughtful address.
Universities exist not only to convey knowledge but to transmit
and help individuals build values and a sense of social responsibility.
The fact that our students behaved so well suggests that,
at least in some measure, this university has been successful
about developing a sense of social responsibility and respect.
We have a broader mission with students yet to come and clearly
in the greater community.
from Winter 2001 Commencement addresses
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