When it’s May, it’s time for lousy (sometimes insightful) graduation speakers

If it’s May, that means it’s time for colleges and universities to embark on a graduation speaker hunt, an unsuccessful annual endeavor designed only to distract from the graduates, stir up controversy, or boredom (depending of speaker choice) and to indicate any changes in the phalanx of Culture Warrior avatars.

This year’s most interesting pick comes from Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan that was recently the subject of a New Yorker profile of the inimitable Emma Green. She focused on school as it became more and more important during the culture wars.

“[Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis has said he probably wouldn’t hire anyone from his alma mater, Yale. But “when I get someone from Hillsdale,” he said, “I know they have the resources they need to be helpful in pursuing conservative politics,” Green wrote. In January, DeSantis’ chief of staff told the National Review that the governor hoped to transform New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college, into a “Southern Hillsdale.” “

Hillsdale is the perfect fusion of conservative Christianity with an aggressive and unaffected Americanism not usually associated with higher education. Her ads on Fox News promote her online courses, in which the Founding Fathers are on equal footing with the Apostles in terms of cultural authority. Mind you, I’m a huge fan of the Founders and their work, but wrapping the American Founding in Christian theology is bad history and bad theology, as is intellectually suspect the role of religion in shaping the Founders’ worldview to ignore .

Prior to its current status as the ideal college for conservative culture warriors like DeSantis, Hillsdale was best known for its decision to withdraw from all federal tuition assistance programs. According to their website, “In order to maintain our independence in all respects, Hillsdale does not accept a penny of state or federal taxpayer money — even indirectly in the form of tuition grants and loans.” High marks for integrity, but low marks for attention to that common good.

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Of course, this year’s opening speaker – drum roll, please – will be Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota. Too bad he won’t be bringing his dog-and-pony show starring Canadian provocateur Jordan Peterson to the Hillsdale campus. Barron is increasingly willing to befriend wealthy warriors of conservative culture, which is unsettling for anyone but frightening for a bishop.

In fairness, Hillsdale is being lauded for its recent decision to sever ties with a private academy in Florida, after the school board forced the principal to resign for failing to alert parents that their children would like Michelangelo’s statue of David “ would be exposed in all its facets of naked fame. “Of course, Hillsdale’s K-12 art curriculum includes Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and other artworks depicting the human form,” a college spokesman said. Lest you think that Barron’s performance was an endorsement of Renaissance art, Davidgate came months after the announcement that Barron would be the opening speaker.

My alma mater gets the win for Worst Graduation Speaker from a prominent Catholic university. Catholic University of America graduates will listen to Arthur Brooks, who served as president of the American Enterprise Institute from 2009 to 2019.

In announcing the election, CUA failed to mention his tenure at AEI, which exists to defend the kind of neoliberal economic policy that has long been an inversion of the kind of economy envisioned by Catholic social teaching. Instead, they describe Brooks as a “New York Times best-selling author, columnist at The Atlantic, PhD in Social Sciences, and ‘happiness expert.'” “Happiness expert?

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Fortunately, as I began preparing this column, I received an email notification from the Napa Institute that the organization would be offering “a unique and intimate experience with Arthur Brooks in the run-up to their annual summer conference to learn from his vast knowledge “. Research on happiness and how to apply this knowledge to your life from a Catholic perspective. Can we assume some of the plutocrats at Napa Institute are unhappy? The email reports on Brooks’ recent visit to the Dalai Lama. I confess that every time I read about the Dalai Lama, I remember an interview on Australian television in which the presenter told the Tibetan saint a joke about himself: The Dalai Lama goes into a pizzeria and asks: “Can you make me?” one with everything?” Every time I watch the video I break down.

Brooks’ connection to Napa, if not the Dalai Lama, makes sense from CUA’s graduation address: The business school at CUA is named after Tim Busch, founder of the Napa Institute, and his wife, Steph. It seems that at some point my alma mater was “sold” to the Busch family. The right-wing swing at the school under its former president, John Garvey, was appalling, and the fact that a neoliberal advocate was the closing speaker is just further evidence that the school has gone astray.

Who needs all that distraction? No more tradition of having a final speaker at all. I’m all for tradition when it enriches our spirits and ennobles our morals, but this tradition does none of that. Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal ennobles our moral sense, but most Catholic universities are not Notre Dame and most orators are not worthy of a Laetare Medal. Basta. Allow one of the graduates to speak or observe a minute’s silence.

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