Four years at Harvard have made me much thicker-skinned than I used to be. To be sure, it was more than a little unsettling when my freshman dormitory held a mandatory sensitivity session at which each student was forced to say: “Hello, my name is . . . , and I’m gay.” But after seeing Angela Davis welcomed and feted by the John F. Kennedy School of Government and Spike Lee given a multiyear professorship to teach a course on “Contemporary African-American Cinema,” I had long since become desensitized to the antics of the Harvard left. I was therefore prepared for just about anything at the recent commencement exercises, which provided a fitting conclusion to an often bizarre college career.
The baccalaureate service, a Harvard tradition dating back to 1642, opened with selections from the sacred texts of all the major religions. A representative of each religion ascended in his turn, read several lines, and was seated, giving the ceremony the feel more of a theological Epcot Center than of a solemn religious service. Some organizers no doubt thought this broad representation would add to the religious significance of the occasion, but its effect was just the opposite. J.F. Stephen was correct to observe that “when religious differences come to be and are regarded as mere differences of opinion, it is because the controversy is really decided in the skeptical sense, though people may not like to acknowledge it formally.”
Efforts to accommodate the politically correct crowd actually became amusing. Whenever one of the speakers mentioned God, for example, he would hastily add: “er, by whatever name you may invoke him.” One woman broke the monotony by closing a prayer with “in Jesus’ name, Amen”—no doubt the last time she’ll be heard from at Harvard.
The predictable result of this was to reduce the religious content of the service to a decidedly uninspiring deism—the lowest common denominator of the religions represented. All we could agree on was the existence of a Prime Mover, out there somewhere. It was therefore funny when Radcliffe College President Linda S. Wilson reminded us that diversity had been our strength over the past four years. Diversity would prove to be South Africa’s strength as well, she assured us, as the heretofore frustrated potential for a “prosperous” and “stable” South Africa would finally be realized under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.
Apart from the occasional scholar or scientist, the honorary degree recipients were p.c. to a person, though none more so than retiring Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. Blackmun, we were told, concerned himself much more with the “real people” involved in his decisions than with legal formalities (e.g., that antiquated document from America’s horse-and-buggy days). I remained seated as the entire assembly, led by cheering law school graduates, gave Blackmun a standing ovation for his efforts on behalf of the oppressed.
That afternoon, Vice President Al Gore delivered the Commencement Address —a lengthy harangue on the need for “faith in government.” Cynicism, defined by the Vice President as a lack of appreciation of the central state as a force for good, is the bane of democratic government. Gore even tried to blame the crime problem on cynicism. Cynics, you see, are crippling federal efforts to find a solution. Imagine that: while the police stood by and did nothing as mobs terrorized Los Angeles, Crown Heights, and Atlanta, the masses remained skeptical of solutions that involve taking their guns away from them. The rest of the speech was distinctly forgettable, though I do recall rolling my eyes quite a bit.
On that note, the ceremony, and with it my undergraduate career, came to a close. I will, of course, always look fondly on my years at Harvard. But part of me can’t help agreeing with John Dos Passos, that until most of Harvard is “blown up and its site filled with salt, no good will come out of Cambridge.”