From Senior Class officer, a response to Class Day protest

It is unfortunate that members of our class seek to politicize Class Day, putting a negative spin on what would otherwise be a purely festive and celebratory occasion (“Stand on Class Day — for peace” 5/24).

The Senior Class Officers, in conjunction with the Yale President’s Office and the Yale College Dean’s Office, did not invite Former Prime Minister Tony Blair because we agree with or condone every decision he has ever made. Instead, we believe that as one of the world’s most prominent statesmen and a superb orator, Mr. Blair could offer words of advice and wisdom that Yalies, en route to making hard decisions themselves, could take to heart.

Again, though our choice of speaker does not imply support of the Iraq War, we admire many of Mr. Blair’s achievements. Mr. Blair played a central role resolving bitter conflict in Northern Ireland in 1999. He is regarded as the most impassioned of the leaders who advocated NATO intervention in Kosovo. Without his efforts in both cases, untold lives might have been lost.

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr. Blair introduced a minimum wage for the first time in the country’s history and worked to raise the status of labor unions. Today, as the envoy of the Quartet (the UN, EU, Russia and United States) to the Middle East, Mr. Blair spends much of his time trying to improve the economic situation in the West Bank.

Regardless of whether we in the Yale class of 2008 support these policies, Mr. Blair has much to offer us. Even as we may admire or condemn specific decisions, we can learn from his experience. As we graduate, we might do well to consider Mr. Blair’s closing words in his 2007 Foreign Affairs article: “None of this eliminates the setbacks, shortfalls, inconsistencies, and hypocrisies that come with practical decision-making in a harsh world. But it does mean that the best of the human spirit, which has pushed the progress of humanity along, is also the best hope for the world’s future.”

Yonah Freemark and Lea Krivchenia write that Class Day “is our chance to directly voice our disapproval of his involvement in the war and to hold him accountable for his actions.” While we strongly approve of their desire to express their political views and hold leaders accountable, we do not believe that this is an appropriate forum to do so.

Class Day is a time to reflect on our Yale experience and draw inspiration from the guest speaker. We hope that the members of the class of 2008 who seek change in global politics will do so after Class Day—in a venue where they will have an effect.

Sabrina Howell is the Senior Class Treasurer.

Comments

  • Daniel

    Dear Sabrina,

    While I appreciate your effort to defend Blair's overall career, the decision to lead a country into war is not that can be disregarded easily. It defines Blair's tenure as Prime Minister and it is not something that we are able to forget. We at Yale have little connection to those who are the most directly touched by this conflict (either soldiers being sent to Iraq or Iraqis) and I understand that it is tempting to minimize the importance of the Iraq War but that is not something that should be done lightly.

    It has been documented that Blair did not just follow Bush's lead, he also silenced his own intelligence services who were warning him that there were no signs of weapons of mass destruction. And he stood against his country's public opinion, overwhelmingly opposed to the war.

    As to his domestic tenure, it is unfortunately not a rosy one either. Not only did Blair's introduce the idea of the Third Way to Europe, removing any affiliation to the left that the Labor Part might have had, he also imitated Bush's stringent crackdown on civil liberties, tearing his own party apart in the process.

    He now wants to be the first president of the EU, and it looks like too many in Europe (and apparently some as Yale as well) are willing to forget his dreadful decisions of the past and allow him to enter office again.

  • Anonymous

    Well said Sabrina.

  • Anonymous #3

    Dear Yale Students,

    It’s about you and not Mr. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Through an ancient charter from the state of Connecticut, not through any shenanigans enacted by a recent boardroom populus.

  • AW

    Sabrina, the students who have decided to protest are not responsible for "politicizing Class Day." Rather, that responsibility would fall on the shoulders of whoever decided to bring one of the world's most visible and embattled politicians to campus in order to serenade the graduating class.

    You mention some of Tony Blair's other accomplishments as Prime Minister that were meant, it seems, to counterbalance our otherwise negative image of Blair as an equal partner of President Bush in decimating an entire country's people. Not to mention that he failed to engage a system of international checks and balances that otherwise might have slowed the executive-power steamroller that is the Bush Administration.

    To marshal Blair's past achievements--which, taken alone, would make you think the guy had some respect for humanity--is at the very least puzzling, and at the worst ignorant. Why have we completely lost perspective on the fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens have been murdered in plain daylight, entire families ravaged because they had to make a trip to the grocery store to buy food. It could have been you or me.

    I don't think any member of the senior class would demand that the University hire a speaker whose every political decision the entire school agrees with. I also believe that every single member of the senior class would welcome the opportunity to receive wisdom from someone whose experience allows them to speak knowledgeably about the world.

    Unfortunately, some of them find it difficult to take advice from someone responsible for murder.

  • intolerance

    The same people who protest Tony Blair for his stance on the war would have a hissy-fit if anyone dared to protest Hillary Clinton's speech.

    Thankfully, conservatives seem to be polite enough to realize when to put partisan differences aside.

    /moderate liberal

  • Hieronymus

    Thank you, Sabrina.

  • Tucker R-G

    Let's just pretend "politics" is this sphere that can be kept separate from daily life. For Class Day, can't we, as Intellectuals forget about the nitty-gritty details of the quotidian and benefit from the (surely apolitical) advice that the former leader of one of the most powerful ex- colonial powers has to offer?

    As a third or so of the graduating class looks forward to entering the financial sphere, they don't want to have to think about the fact that all of their actions have political. After all, if there is one thing Yale teaches all of us in four years, isn't it how to hypostatize?

  • y08

    Students had every right to protest the speech…in a NON-disruptive manner on the sidelines, somewhere where they would not have been blocking the view of Blair for their peers behind them. As much as I cherish the constitutional right to protest, while I was sitting at Class Day looking at an anti-war poster instead of Blair, I would have relished seeing the protesters hauled off by the police off to the side and batonned if they tried to resist.

  • 0y8

    Thanks Sabrina- I hated the fact a tiny minority decided to change the flavor of class day for the rest of us and our parents. If I recall, Blair is actually from the Labor Party, the British equivalent of Democrats, so I'm not totally sure why the UOC crowd decided to act disrespectful to the former leader of one of our biggest allies.

  • PC 08

    Sabrina,

    I don't feel entitled to a Class Day speaker whose views agree with my own. I do think that you had an obligation, however, to at least provide an honest introduction to Tony Blair's career. The fact that you introduced him without mentioning even once the Iraq War -- the defining event of his tenure -- was intellectually irresponsible at best. Had Hitler spoken at Class Day, would we have spoken only of his watercolors?

  • Anonymous

    I was wondering how long these posts could continue before a connection to Hilter was made.

    While everyone has the right to protest as he/she sees fit, doing so has regretfully become so commonplace that many lose sight of just how insulting the practice is. Protesters on class day publicly disrespected a foreign dignitary who was a guest of the university. In the process, they selfishly disrupted the experience of their peers and contributed to the national perception that Yale is hostile to anyone who disagrees with any liberal ideals (even though Mr. Blair is actually, on most issues, a liberal). This decision should not have been taken lightly, and should have been reserved only for those guilty of the most egregious violations of decency and morality. I can see how President Hu's violations of human rights might count. Hitler definitely counts. As far as I can tell, Tony Blair's only offense here was supporting the Iraq war. It was a difficult and divisive issue, to be sure, but he is not deserving of such disrespectful treatment.