Air Force One arrived at Greenville Spartanburg Airport Saturday evening and the presidential motorcade made its way through Greenville to Furman for commencement. Roads were blocked, and the citizens of our city came out to try to get a glimpse. Some waved flags. Some held signs of various types. One paragraph from the Greenville News really summed things up nicely…
Interstate 85 traffic stood still near Pelham Road, where people sat on the roofs of their SUVs and watched as the motorcade weaved across three empty lanes of traffic. A crowd outside the Handlebar held camera phones aloft and offered mixed hand signals.
Laura left home around 1:30 to make sure there were no problems. She hung out in her office until time to line up for the procession. I, on the other hand, was content to watch the proceedings on streaming video.
As the Bush entered Paladin Stadium the band played “Hail to the Chief.” The Furman Singers started with their traditional “God of Grace and God of Glory” and I sang along in our living room. Senior Meridith Neville gave and excellent speech, then it was time for Bush’s speech.
Courtesy of the Not Very Bright blog, I was able to read Bush’s speech ahead of time. From the text, it wasn’t a bad speech at all, and much better than I expected. Bush spoke of his ties to Furman, including a step-grandmother who had attended the Greenville Women’s College. During Bush’s speech, about 15 of the faculty stood wearing the “We Object” T-shirts as anticipated. The online streaming tactfully avoided showing them at all. That bit was all expected.
What wasn’t expected was Dr. Shi’s speech following Bush. He sounded like he was pandering to the conservative crowd, eliciting applause from them at several occasions when he spoke of respecting diverse viewpoints. I wasn’t the only one that caught this. According to the Spartanburg Herald…
Furman president David Shi, in his charge to the graduating class, seemed at times to also be wagging his finger at the dissatisfied academics. Shi has taken heat for inviting Bush to speak without consulting the faculty.
I’m sure that on paper his speech seemed very reasonable. However, his inflections did seem to be pointed directly toward the faculty. He even left out the traditional invitation to seniors to come back and visit the campus as alumni. Maybe after this he doesn’t want them back.
Right after Bush finished his speech he departed, even before Dr. Shi got up to make his comments. This was a good thing, otherwise post-graduation traffic would have been a nightmare. Laura said that nearly 150-200 in the audience got up and left after the president’s speech. This entire controversy has been couched in terms of disrespecting the special day for seniors. I would think that those that left without seeing the seniors get their degrees were showing even more disrespect. At least those faculty who stood in protest stayed, and greeted their students afterwards.
At least it’s over. I’m sure there were be a few aftershocks from trustees and contributors, but Furman has survived worse. Laura and I both are just ready to head to a different part of the world for awhile.
One final note: One of Laura’s students, Yahmin Htet, is from Myanmar. She is graduating this year, but will continuing her studies by pursuing a Masters in Chemistry with Laura. With all of the civil unrest and tragedy in her home country, she didn’t think her parents would be able to attend her graduation. They were able to get visas on Thursday, and were able to attend. Protests and presidents aside, that’s what this ceremony is really about.
[tags]Bush, Furman University, Furman, graduation[/tags]