Standing on Class Day — for peace
By Yonah Freemark and Lea Krivchenia
We are two Yale seniors against the war. We will graduate in the year 2008, the fifth year of the conflict in Iraq. Like many of our fellow Yalies, we ended our high school years with an energy and determination to speak out against a war that we considered unjust. We both went to marches, we both wrote to our legislators, and we each organized walkouts at our respective high schools. One of us gave a speech at her high school graduation against the war. At that time, our outrage was not rare and our actions were not taken alone.
This weekend we graduate again, and yet no realistic end to the Iraq War is in sight. In the intervening years we, as well as other members of our generation, have lost much of our zeal and our impulse to speak out. Nonetheless, under the supervision of our government and that of the United Kingdom, led by Tony Blair, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, the vast majority of them noncombatants. The initial justification for the war has been proven fabricated. Five years later, we stand by our initial opposition.
We are protesting one of the primary instigators of the Iraq War. Class Day for us, like for everyone, is important. Our intention is not to disrupt. Rather, we hope to remind both our speaker and our classmates that this war continues. While Mr. Blair is no longer Prime Minister, he remains an influential figure in international politics. His speech will likely not address the Iraq War, but as students, it is our chance to directly voice our disapproval of his involvement in the war and to hold him accountable for his actions. This is an act of witness. As American citizens, and members of the global community, we are not innocent bystanders. Our leaders, using our tax dollars, directed this war. We are complicit and therefore we must stand up against the actions of failed, dangerous leadership.
We understand that graduation is important to students and to their families, and we deeply respect the work that has gone into our collective achievements. We recognize that we would not be here if it were not for many other people along the way, from parents to mentors, from teachers to friends. In planning our opposition, we deliberately chose actions that will not interrupt the speaker, and actions that will not block the views of our families and loved ones. We made these choices because we hope that we will not detract, but rather that we will add to the experience of our fellow graduates and guests.
It is true that our decision to conduct a protest during Class Day is a political one, but to not protest would also be political. The choice of Mr. Blair as speaker was that which originally politicized the event. It would be inexcusable for us to listen without demonstrating our sincere disagreement with his failed policies in regards to the Iraq War.
In fact, it is perhaps appropriate that Mr. Blair has been chosen to speak, as our generation has come of age in a time of war. Both of us can remember exactly where we were when our country began its invasion — it is a memory we will never forget, and it is not one we ever wish to repeat. Our Commencement marks our entrance into the world as we choose to define it — not through war, but through peace.
Yonah Freemark is a senior in Saybrook College. Lea Krivchenia is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.
From Senior Class officer, a response to Class Day protest
By Sabrina Howell
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.