Is a family graduation on your calendar this year?
As a faculty member at Florida State College at Jacksonville (then Florida Community College), I attended graduation every year in full regalia with hundreds of ecstatic grads, joyful families, and proud faculty and administration.
The Tawdry Tale
One year stands out though: 2001. State Representative X rose to the podium to deliver the commencement address and announced that his remarks would be short and to the point. Relieved, the audience sat back to enjoy a brief speech entitled A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Hmm . . . the title sounded familiar, I thought. Then he went on to tick off the main points: 1. Don’t confuse life with work. 2. Life is what happens when you are making other plans. 3. If you win the rat race, you are still a rat. . . . Then it dawned on me. I have heard this all before. In fact I’ve read it. Recently. In a book. In a book by Anna Quindlen with the same title. This man with an honorable title in high office is plagiarizing his speech, giving no credit to Quindlen or reference to her book. His whole speech. Boldly. Baldly. With no bones about honesty!
My sense of justice on high alert, I set out to right the wrong. No, to expose the guilty. I contact the campus president in charge of graduation. Yes, she will check up on my suspicion and she does follow through. There are more emails and phone calls, which in the end boil down to the critical question: Where is the audio recording of that address? Alas, it is never un-earthed. We are told the recording mechanism failed (?) and thus no incriminating evidence is available. Sadly, just my words remain which have now fallen. Flat. On deaf ears.
My own college graduation is a distant memory. When I graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a degree in English, I was still a plain girl, but with a B. A. degree in English education. I don’t remember at all who spoke at the commencement address or what the topic was, but I am sure there was an emphasis on service to others, demonstrating peace while upholding justice, still strong tenets of my alma mater, now Eastern Mennonite University.
The Nobel Laureate
Tomorrow another graduation occurs. On Sunday, April 27, 2014 an honorable woman, Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and a 2007 EMU alumna, will give the 96th annual commencement address at Eastern Mennonite University. Gbowee was the focus of a documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which demonstrates how women, both Christian and Muslim confronted then-Liberian President Charles Taylor “with a demand for peace and end a bloody 14-year-old civil war.” Her genius: Gbowee rallied women, all dressed in white from various ethnic groups to lock arms, protest, and over time literally pray the ruthless rebels, including the President, into retreat. They even staged a sex strike which her book describes in more detail. In 2007 Leymah Gbowee received a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from the Center for Justice and Peace-building at EMU, also her alma mater. No doubt in her graduation speech she will make reference to her book: Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.
But I can assure you—she has plagiarized neither her book nor her speech!
When have you become outspoken against an injustice? What were the results?
Have you heard of Leymah Gbowee? Anyone else you know with her qualities?