Fighting Spirit: Rhetoric, Rotten Rulers, and a Sex Strike

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.

Senior Photo: Eastern Mennonite College
Senior Photo: Eastern Mennonite College


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?


24 thoughts on “Fighting Spirit: Rhetoric, Rotten Rulers, and a Sex Strike

  1. I wonder how much more plagiarizing goes on in commencement speeches. But wow, how bald. And nasty. I got to meet Leymah when she was at EMU right after her Nobel Peace Prize deal, The stories she told were captivating. Love her strength and her book is great. Have you read it yet?


    1. I have admired her from afar via the Alumni News, but her book is on my “must read” list. Lucky you – an advantage of living so close to the University is that you have access to so many admirable (and like-minded) people. Thanks, Melodie.


  2. I am intrigued by Gbowee’s book. I’m putting it on my list of must reads.
    The only experience I have that is similar to yours occurred in church. A woman got up to sing a “song that she had written herself,” and then proceeded to belt out “I Shall Not Be Moved.” The woman obviously had some issues, but just as the song title suggested, I wasn’t spiritually moved by her actions – unless indignation counts! But your story about a State Rep … wow. So glad we had chosen someone of his caliber of character to serve in office! :-/


    1. Indignation does count! I sensed that he felt no compunction about what he was doing before thousands in the auditorium. On another level, his assumption about the ignorance of his audience was insulting too – imagining that no one, especially the well-read faculty, would detect his reprehensible actions. There – I feel better! Thanks, Traci.


  3. A woman with her courage and conviction deserves all this honor, I agree. You won’t be disappointed in the book. Thanks for the tweet and also the twitter right here, Joan!


    1. Util Leymah’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination, I don’t recall her good works being publicized. While she was being feted, the world heard a story of victory overcoming violence and fear. If you ask me, we need so many more stories like this in the media to combat the overwhelming negativity the media seems to major in. Thank you for visiting and commenting today–as always, Fiona.


  4. So interesting, Marian, how you wove all these topics together–graduations, plagiarism, and human rights. Last year around this time our younger daughter graduated from Albright College–and for about a month we were traveling back and forth attending various events. I’ve been thinking about it lately–it seems like it is so much longer than one year.

    I’ve been dealing with a contributor on my current project whose articles were filled with paragraphs lifted entirely from other sources. Obviously, I can’t talk about it here, but what a nightmare!

    As for Leymah, I mentioned her and her protest in my Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast. I have not yet read her book, but I will certainly put it on my list. I’m sure her address will be memorable!


    1. My heart goes out to you concerning your plagiarizing plague. “Lifting things” is not the problem – failure to credit is, as we know. Congrats on another daughter graduating: I believe Albright is in Reading, PA. Right?

      Thank you for noticing the disparate topics in this post. Weaving is what we writers do. Now I’m trying to connect the ideas of report cards, “The You’re Not Special” graduation speech at Wellesley H. S. and some kids’ songs.

      Your Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast sounds unique. I haven’t done a review of the literature, but I would guess you have a corner on the market on this topic. At least from your perspective. Nice to talk to you this morning, Merril.


      1. Thanks, Marian. Yeah–I guess the good thing was that I caught the plagiarizing at this point before the manuscript has been submitted. The bad part is that I then had to rewrite all the articles this person wrote when I’m already swamped with work.

        Yes, Albright is in Reading, PA. We were so pleased with our daughter’s experience there.

        I love when disparate topics are woven together. When done well, they make the most interesting works–and speeches, too. Good luck with your new project.

        I certainly hope that many people will find the Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast unique and interesting!

        It’s always fun “talking” to you, too, Marian!


  5. Thank you for this illuminating post Marian. Wonderful weaving! Had she credited Anna Quindlen (as I was reading the words, I thought they sounded familiar) that would have been ‘acceptable’. I’ll give some thought as to when I’ve spoken out to injustices (I have) but I’m just back from the mountains and there is much to be done ..Leymah Gbowee sounds strong and powerful. Our own public protector, Thuli Madonsela is such a woman here in South Africa.
    Garden of Eden Blog


    1. I have heard that the best way for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. Many times, though, it takes a woman. Thanks for commenting during this busy time of transition.

      By the way, I am following your blog and have left a comment today for the letter X in your A-Z blog challenge, a nifty structure for generating theme for the day.


  6. Yowza! Your plagiarism description at the commencement speech is shameful. Absolutely shameful. The silver lining on that cloud is that it will come back to bite him/her in the hind end, in some way or another, at some point in time. Of that I am certain.

    I have not heard of heard of Leymah Gbowee, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’m going to read her book. THANK YOU for the recommendation!


    1. I hear your out-rage, Laurie. This guy has probably gotten away with cheating in other areas of his life too. I am sure one way or another he has gotten his due.

      Also, I am happy to introduce you to Gbowee’s book. I like your assertive phrase: “You can bet your bottom dollar . . . ” about intention to read her book. That was one of my dad’s favorite expressions. He loved to be emphatic 🙂

      My, it’s wonderful to have you back safely after your grand expedition to the Northwest. Thank you!


      1. Marian – Less than one week after our arrival in Beautiful Boise, I flew to San Diego for my niece’s wedding and just returned back to Beautiful Boise. I’m gluing my feet to the ground for a while now 🙂


  7. Marian, you managed to pull together some very fascinating bedfellows in this post in your signature way.

    Did you know that Leymah has her own FB page and that there is a GREAT picture of her dancing, along with her son and others, at the end of the EMU commencement? [Can’t you imagine the EMC founders’ reaction? No matter!]

    As for that plagiarist, the first thing I thought of was that he could never get away with that crime in the age of social media. And that your president may well have been engaged in a cover up. Sad!

    Finally, I like to think of “retirement” as commencement. The beginning of a new life. No mortarboard necessary. How about you?


    1. Thank you for the nod, Shirley. I think of my posts lately as a collage of ideas with photos and text. Such fun to fit the puzzle pieces together.

      No, I didn’t know about Leymah and the FB page – I’ll have to check out the glory dancing she inspired at the end of commencement. Yes, I think John R. Mumaw would have a problem with the dancing bit; however, spiritual dance is biblical as we both know.

      I agree heartily with your take on retirement. Now I refer to these years as just another phase (Phase II or III, depending) and I’m loving it. To think it all started by signing up for a course with the alluring title “What the Heck is a Blog?” which is where I met you. Lucky me!


  8. Marian, this is an Interesting way to weave graduation experiences. I noticed those you admired are women and the scoundrel is male. I did not go to my college graduation. My mother was in Okinawa. My brother was in California. I knew Vic then and he volunteered to go, but I didn’t have the heart to go without family. So Vic and I spent graduation day together and I picked up my degree later. Thanks for the FB page tip, Shirley. I’ll have a look.


  9. There you go – another fond memory of Vic! About the graduation stories – I would love to tout the males as heroes, but that’s not the truth of these stories. Some African stories with good male models would include Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu for sure. I am always happy when you read and comment, Elaine. Thank you.


    1. You definitely are not a sexist. Neither am I, but I love stories where women are the wise and powerful ones. Not enough of those. Yes, I love Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and many men.


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