Caution: If you attend a campus commencement address this spring, you could be entering a no-Trump zone.
Most college and university graduation speakers contacted by USA TODAY said they would not address the elephant in the stadium. And mention of the president and party politics has been conspicuously absent from the speeches that already have been given.
“If they invited a politician to speak, they’d get what they expected. Since they didn’t, I’ll take that as a direction’’ and avoid the subject, said former NASA astronaut Kathryn Thornton, who may speak about space exploration at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.
“Anybody whose commencement speech could be put on the editorial page of a newspaper doesn't understand the job,’’ said Anthony Esolen, an English literature scholar who will speak at Hillsdale College in Michigan. His advice: “Leave the shifting sand dunes of the day far behind.’’
As for Trump, he asked, “Why on earth should I mention the president? …. I have instead to decide whether I will talk about Milton or Dante or Dr. Johnson…’’
That seems like a sound approach to Cristina Negrut, a connoisseur of commencement speeches who founded the website graduationwisdom.com. Love Trump or hate him, “we already have enough people trying to label him, like Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes,’’ she said. “Another label – ‘liar’ or something -- is not helpful.’
The talk at graduation is of everything but Trump, including memories of a graduation past (writing coach Roy Peter Clark at Providence College); indigenous American languages (2016 MacArthur genius grant winner Daryl Baldwin at Miami University in Ohio); mountain climbing (mountaineer Conrad Anker at the University of Utah).
Speakers cited tried and true rules for commencement speeches to explain why they will not talk about the man everyone else is talking about.