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Speech Upsets Some, Pleases Others


Ben Cohen speaks at Commencement
Photo by Tom A. Mike

I attended the 2003 graduation, and I was overwhelmed with the growth that has happened on campus since I graduated in 1990. The campus looked just beautiful. I was very proud to show the school off to my husband's family, many of whom were seeing the campus for the first time.

Unfortunately, my family and I left the Ithaca College campus feeling very disappointed and angry. I am a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, but this year's Commencement speaker crossed the line. Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry's, took his political views and shoved them down our throats as we tried to celebrate the achievements of the members of the class of 2003. At the end of his address I felt embarrassed, sickened, and ashamed. I was saddened to think that the message that was given to the class of 2003 was not to trust their government.

God willing, I will be attending Ithaca graduation ceremonies in 2007 for another niece, who will be attending starting this fall. I ask that the College make sure that the speaker and the topic are appropriate for this joyous occasion. I would also like to encourage the College to continue to invite diverse speakers to attend the campus --- at appropriate occasions. Commencement ceremonies are not the place for protest rallies.

Beth Tilton Boucher '90
Milton, Massachusetts


The address given by Ben Cohen at the class of 2003 Commencement and the concluding words by President Peggy Williams are to be commended.

Graduating from an institution of higher education signifies a step toward further involvement as a citizen in the whole of society. As President Williams stated, all in the graduating class have "the responsibility, as educated citizens, to continue to be informed, to continue to share your thoughts, and to continue to invite and listen to the perspectives of others --- even when those differ from your own --- and to find your special role for making this world a better place for all."

As the members of the graduating class of 2003 enter another phase of their lives, Mr. Cohen presented them with a choice: be indifferent and live passively with current U.S. policies that favor might and put us all in continuous danger, or work actively to create policies that favor understanding and peace while striving toward a just and sustainable future.

As President Williams fittingly quoted from a story by Fannie Lou Hamer regarding the future of a captive bird, "It's in your hands."

Eric Lieb '04
Washington, D.C.


I felt privileged to be in the audience for the 2003 Commencement and Ben Cohen's remarkably fearless comments on the state of the nation. My daughter (Sarah Leonard '03, a Park School graduate) and I both believe Mr. Cohen's address reflected his moral obligation to speak up about bloated defense spending, the gap between the rich and the poor, and other significant issues at a time when people are being discouraged from speaking up in this country.

Ben Cohen founded True Majority, an education and advocacy project working to support the principles he expressed to the new graduates and their families during Commencement.

Many parents and graduates I chatted with after the ceremony commented on his speech. Most agreed with him, but some didn't feel it was appropriate for the "graduates' day." I feel that whether the graduates agreed or disagreed with Ben Cohen, they were given a gift: they will never forget that sunny day in Ithaca when they were made to think about where they stand as citizens in America and the choices they can make to support their convictions. What a great way to start their new post-Ithaca lives!

Joette Holgado
Canton, New York

 

   

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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 28 October, 2003