In selecting a Commencement speaker, a university should seek to choose an individual who stands above the divides that are too often visible in society. This individual should have the inherent ability to transcend the political, racial and socio-economic differences of a diverse graduating class in order to provide credible words of guidance, inspiration and wisdom. Sadly, in choosing Julian Bond as the keynote speaker at Commencement, our University has failed to do this.
Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, is not just a critic of the Republican Party – he spews hatred toward our party in a perverse and stereotypical way. It is unfortunate that a University with such wide global reach would turn to a man whose intolerance reportedly led him to compare the Republican Party to both the Nazis and the Taliban, and whose narrow-mindedness led him to claim that we only appeal to the “dark underside of American culture, to the minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality.” These comments are offensive and we are disappointed that the University has chosen to invite such a divisive individual to deliver its most prestigious address.
Beyond the offense of Bond’s words, his statements neglect the strong record of the Republican Party on issues involving race. The Republican Party was founded with the purpose of eliminating slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the first president of the Republican Party, emancipated all slaves in 1863. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had more Republican votes than Democratic votes in Congress even though Democrats were in control. President George W. Bush is the first President to have a black man and a black woman serve as Secretary of State – the highest cabinet position in our government. Instead of praising these successes in racial equality, Bond has dismissed these appointments as merely “kinds of human shields against any criticism of (the Republican Party) record on civil rights.”
Furthermore, the policies championed by the Republican Party under the leadership of President Bush have particularly benefited black Americans. President Bush’s policies created an economy in which minority home-ownership is at an all-time high, nearly closing the minority home ownership gap. Contrary to Democratic assertions that the Bush tax cuts only benefit the wealthy, the tax cuts actually enabled 3.8 million low-income black Americans to avoid paying any federal income taxes.
We recognize that finding a Commencement speaker whose views are exactly parallel to every member of the GW community is impossible. We do not demand that only a Republican leader deliver the keynote this May. We are, however, severely disappointed that the University would grant such a momentous speech to such an unnecessarily divisive speaker. Inviting a respected statesman of liberal orthodoxy such as Senator Joe Biden or former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a GW alum, would have been a respectable decision. While we have strong differences with their policies, we can appreciate their wisdom as long-time public servants who do not hold uninhibited hatred toward those with conservative beliefs.
With all due respect to University President Steven Knapp, Bond has not won the “admiration of our faculty, students and trustees,” and extending the invitation to Bond to be this year’s keynote speaker at Commencement does not “honor our university,” nor does it honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 40th anniversary of his death. Unlike the hatred preached by Bond, Dr. King advanced racial equality with positive, thought-provoking speech, and to equate the work and the lives of these two men is an insult to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
The writers are seniors and the chairman and director of public relations of the GW College Republicans, respectively.