Commencement Unvitations

Earlier this year, as droves of college graduates donned their caps and gowns to celebrate the completion of their education, a disturbing pattern became clear. It wasn’t that the vast majority of these new degree holders poured out into the world only to be immediately decimated by the reality of how truly worthless their shiny new piece of paper is (he said, spoken like a true psychology major).

Nay – Graduation Season 2014 was the year of the speaker unvitation.

Students and staff at several universities across the country took to their high horses to protest their school’s choice of commencement speakers. Condoleezza Rice declined to speak at the Rutgers University graduation after students and staff protested due to her “connection to the war in Iraq.” Students at Smith College successfully unvited Christine Lagarde from speaking at their graduation.

Even Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs received some backlash from the students of Howard University upon being named as the guest speaker, mostly because he didn’t bother to finish his degree before going on to become a wildly successful musician and entrepreneur. Apparently degree holders, regardless of how recent, don’t have to listen to people who dropped out of college.

This is behavior childish and arrogant enough to warrant ranting and fist shaking even several months after it could be considered remotely ‘relevant’ in the fast moving pantheon of current events. However, the protesting itself is not the real problem here. The underlying issue is that people feel entitled freely pick and choose only information, messages, and opinions that they are in agreement with.

For a few decades now, everyone has been reassured that they are a special snowflake that is not only intelligent, but in possession of the most accurate moral compass conceivable. Information that invalidates these notions is detrimental to the thin, gleaming veneer that covers our poorly constructed monuments to ourselves. This is unacceptable, so instead of acknowledging that there is a possibility that we may be wrong, we choose to ignore information that does not validate us.

We have entered a time in which it’s completely possible to manufacture an existence in which we rarely have to hear a dissenting perspective on issues. There are news networks that provide 24 hour news cycles from a point of view you can identify with. Some websites outwardly advertise their bias/perspective to make the choice easier for you. Even though many outlets are reporting on the same facts and events, the stories are wildly different.

Even Facebook molds reality around you by ‘curating’ your timeline – as you like or ignore whatever biased nonsense your friends post from whatever horrid, agenda-having, inflammatory ‘news’ website they are currently sharing from, Facebook will show you more or less items from that website and person. With enough diligence (meaning normal usage) you can craft your news feed into a place where the overwhelming majority of what you see are things that you agree with and/or reinforce your opinions.

Unless you are alone in a room, chances are, you aren’t the smartest person there. And regardless of the circumstances, you aren’t in possession of some device that magically transforms your opinions into fact. Choosing to acknowledge and process only information that validates our ideas and opinions while ignoring everything else is unhealthy. It causes us to think we are all smarter than we are, narrows our worldview, and makes it easier to react aggressively when presented with conflicting information. Get your head out of the sand (and by ‘the sand,’ I totally mean ‘your ass’) and stop ignoring anything that doesn’t make you feel intelligent, important, or right.

Civil discourse is a good thing, folks. Understanding the views, opinions, and feelings of others comes in handy when trying to progress as a society. It’s also this thing called ’empathy’ which is pretty essential when it comes to living together in groups.



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