A representative from Arizona Sen. John McCain’s office contacted the organizers of the petition protesting the selection of Sen. Hillary Clinton as Class Day speaker, sources close to the petition said.
A late April Fools’ joke? I don’t think so.
But if this were a news story, I’d be in trouble. The lead sentence of this article contains all the facts I have. Sen. McCain’s office would not confirm that the call was placed or say whether McCain desires to speak at Yale during Commencement weekend.
Nonetheless, when I heard the news, I couldn’t help being overjoyed. The fact this call was placed means word of the petition has spread beyond our ivy-covered walls. I believe this to be an encouraging development insofar as it demonstrates that students here do have a voice, and because it offers the promise of an exciting alternative.
I have sat quietly while guest columnist after guest columnist has weighed in with their opinion on “our” Class Day speaker. Now, I feel ready to say the debate over this issue has missed its mark.
In one corner are the petitioners. They argue Clinton is a poor choice because her presence divides the senior class at a time when it should be coming together, and because she does not deserve the honor of speaking at Yale’s 300th Commencement.
Quite frankly, I think it’s silly for people who are worried about dividing the class to start a petition that will codify the class’s division — you won’t find my signature on it.
I agree that Clinton’s biography reads like a shelf of Sue Grafton books — “C” is for Cattle Futures, “F” is for Filegate, “P” is for Pardons, and “S” is for Soft Money. But Yale has already given Clinton the biggest feather in her cap: a law degree. What’s one more honor? Unfortunately, the April 3 edition of the Yale Daily News was a prank issue — only if Jesus were the Class Day speaker would critics not find fault with him. Maybe.
In the other corner are the Clinton fans who — despite their complete ignorance of politics — insist she is a wonderful choice because she has accomplished so much. If marrying the luckiest man alive is our measure of accomplishment, then they have a point.
I take a different view. I’m waiting for at least her only proposed legislation — a groundbreaking measure that would increase access to government benefits for illegal immigrants — to pass before I credit her with anything. To date Clinton has accomplished one thing — she has yelled at the rain.
The selection of any Class Day speaker will be controversial. Any prospective speaker shouldn’t be judged on their resume per se, but on their ability to give us a great speech. I do not believe Clinton can do this.
Giving a satisfactory Class Day address is easy. Many Yale students had to do it when they graduated from high school. All you need to get by are a few jokes, a few remarks on the accomplishments of those graduating and a few well wishes for the future.
Giving a great Class Day address is very hard. A great speech, coming at the intersection of the classroom and the real world, should preview what lies ahead. It should give us a glimpse of what the world on the other side of the Memorial Gate looks like.
Clinton has never compromised. Some people see this as admirable, but I disagree.
As we enter the real world, if we hold fast to our ideologies and principles and never yield, we will never accomplish anything. Anyone can have strong beliefs, but making a difference necessarily means making concessions.
Take Sen. McCain for example. Recently, he achieved greatness once again by passing his campaign finance bill through the Senate.
Clinton lacks such experience. Perhaps a few years into her term, when she actually gets around to proposing legislation, she will be someone who has learned to come to agreement with colleagues. But until she does, how can we expect her to be able to tell us how we are to deal with a reality in which our perfect world is different from that of several billion other people?
A great Class Day speech should give us some insight into how we as Yale men and women can work side by side with Harvard men and women, with the educated and the uneducated, and yes, with the conservative and the liberal.
I contend we shouldn’t aspire to simply yell at the rain, but to become individuals who know how to take out an umbrella and cover as many people as possible. We can’t achieve this goal unless we know how to mediate conflicts. Obviously, there are many ways to do this. We all may not be suited to McCain’s no-nonsense style, but at least he has one.
Clinton isn’t a poor choice for all the reasons floating around. She is a poor choice because as of yet, she has not abandoned singing in the rain for walking under anyone else’s umbrella.
Any song she can teach us will not keep us dry.
Phil Fortino is a senior in Saybrook College. His columns appear on Fridays.