Commencement Sense

by Ed Whelan

It’s rare that I have cause to praise anything written by a Yale law professor, so let me seize the occasion to highlight Stephen L. Carter’s excellent “Dear Class of 2014: Thanks for Not Disinviting Me.” Some excerpts:

In my day, the college campus was a place that celebrated the diversity of ideas. Pure argument was our guide. Staking out an unpopular position was admired — and the admiration, in turn, provided excellent training in the virtues of tolerance on the one hand and, on the other, integrity.

Your generation, I am pleased to say, seems to be doing away with all that. There’s no need for the ritual give and take of serious argument when, in your early 20s, you already know the answers to all questions. How marvelous it must be to realize at so tender an age that you will never, ever change your mind, because you will never, ever encounter disagreement! How I wish I’d had your confidence and fortitude. I could have spared myself many hours of patient reflection and intellectual struggle over the great issues of the day….

Once you depart the campus, the world will make unjust demands on you. You will have to work for a living. You will have to put up with people whose views you despise. Fortunately, as long as you don’t waste precious time reflecting in a serious way on the issues of the day — or, worse, contemplating the possibility that you might be mistaken on a question or two — you should have plenty of hours for Twitter and Google Hangout and the nonstop party that every truly just society was meant to be….

Now, before I close, I would like to address those members of the Class of 2014 who might think that it’s wrong to ban speakers whose views you reject. Your reactionary belief in tolerance and open-mindedness is truly distressing. I beg you to remember that every controversial question has only one answer. You have absolutely nothing to learn from people whose opinions you dislike.

And now, graduates, before things go too far — before you run the risk of being thought to be on the road to becoming responsible adults — please, rise to your feet, and, speaking with one voice, shout me down!

(I don’t know that Carter’s jibe about the graduates’ “involvement in the excellent work of bringing back the Middle Ages” is fair … to the Middle Ages—the period is arguably a victim of caricature—but I’ll leave that dispute to others.)