Students at a college graduation ceremony booed a New York Times reporter off the stage after he characterized the United States’ policy in Iraq as a tyranny over the weak.
Rockford College campus
Amid criticism from both supporters of Hedges and his detractors, college President Paul Pribbenow is rethinking the wisdom of such controversial topics at future commencements, the Rockford paper said.
During the speech, some graduates and audience members protested silently by turning their backs to the stage, while others rushed up the aisle to shout at the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. One student tossed his cap and gown toward the speaker.
Jeers, foghorns and calls of “God Bless America” also could be heard.
After Hedges’ microphone was unplugged for a second time, Pribbenow told him to wrap up his speech.
By that time, graduate Mary O’Neill, who sat next to Pribbenow, already had left the ceremony in tears after she asked the president why he allowed the speech to continue.
Pribbenow appealed to freedom of speech and later argued that it would be the death of institutions like 157-year-old Rockford College if people stopped listening to ideas, however controversial they may be.
O’Neill’s husband Kevin was as indignant as his wife.
“This is a ceremony,” he told the Rockford daily. “… The day belongs to the students. It doesn’t belong to a political view.”
The Times’ war correspondent said in his speech war breeds a fervor for heroism that sacrifices individual thought for temporarily belonging to a larger cause, according to the Register Star.
He expressed sympathy for American soldiers, characterizing them as boys from poor southern backgrounds who joined the military because they had no other options.
“War in the end is always about betrayal,” he said, according to the Rockford paper. “Betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and idealists by cynics.”
One Hedges supporter, who read his book on war, said she was horrified at the audience’s behavior.
“They were not behaving as people in an academic setting, where you’re supposed to be open to a great many ideas,” said Elinor Radlund of Rockford, according to the Register Star.
Bob Evans, a political science professor at the college, said the response to the speech is a reminder of the “raw edges of emotion” on the issue.
Pribbenow said a student who rushed the stage might be reprimanded, although he still received his diploma.
“It’s important to go on the record that it’s inappropriate behavior,” he told the Rockford daily.