Monday, July 21, 2014





Freedom of speech? Not when it comes to commencement


April 20. 2013 11:44PM


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TO: ————


RE: Commencement Speech


Dear ————


Congratulations! We here at ——— University would like to invite you to be our commencement speaker. This, as you know, is a great honor. You would join the ranks of ——— last year and ——— the year before and also ————, who was going to be our speaker this year, but, unfortunately, had to be dropped due to protest from the student body. Not the entire student body. Certain members. Seven members, to be exact. Seven loud, sign-waving, endlessly blogging members.


But we here at ——— University think every voice should count.


Would your voice be available next Sunday?


Before you commit (well, to be honest, before we commit) we’d like to confirm a few small things. Just standard questions. You understand.


For example, have you ever owned a gun, fired a gun, asked someone else to fire a gun or taken away a gun? Have you ever told anyone at a cocktail party that guns should be outlawed or that everyone should have at least eight guns in their kitchen, and, if so, what are the chances there was a tape recorder at that cocktail party?


If you answered “no,” great! The deal’s still on. Please continue. Just a few more.


Are you currently straight, gay, bi or transgender, or have you ever been straight, gay, bi or transgender? If you answered “yes” or “no,” that’s fine. If you answered “Hell, no,” we would like to withdraw our offer.


Have you ever expressed an opinion on conservative politicians, liberal politicians, the president, the vice president, foreign leaders or foreign secretaries? Have you ever dated your secretary?


Still “no”? Wonderful. This only confirms what an excellent choice you are for our commencement.


Just a few more items.


Have you ever made a comment about race, slavery, immigration, religion, atheism, cannibalism or witchcraft?


Have you ever emailed, tweeted, posted, Facebooked, blogged or Instagrammed any thoughts on pornography? Have you ever posed in any state of undress? Have you ever stuck a camera down your pants and sent that to someone?


Just standard questions.


Only a few more.


You understand our concern, of course. With the recent cancellation of commencement speakers at Swarthmore (Robert Zoellick, the former World Bank president) and Johns Hopkins (Ben Carson, the world-renowned neurosurgeon) we can’t be too careful. After all, Zoellick was protested over his previous support of the Iraq war. And Carson withdrew after making comments about gay marriage on the Sean Hannity show.


No one is safe. There have been protests over President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama and Sarah Palin speaking. Even James Franco, the actor, was heavily criticized when speaking at UCLA. And that’s in Los Angeles! They love actors there!


By the way, have you ever been in a movie — one that we should know about, that is? A small film? Involving nudity of any kind?


Have you ever been in the cast of “Jersey Shore”? We all remember the fuss when Snooki talked at Rutgers. I’m sure you agree, we don’t want that!


Because after all, this is about the students, right? All the students. Every one of the students. Every blessed, single, angry, vocal, opinionated, self-indulgent one of the students—


Sorry. This has been a frustrating process. To be honest, we are only asking you after striking out with ——— and ——— and all nine members of ——— and the entire cast of ———.


Assuming you have made it this far, please accept our offer of a cap, gown and hood, plus a wonderful spread of coffee and assorted pastries.


We regret to say there is no speaker’s fee, as too many students protested that we could better use the money on something important, like HBO for their dormitories.


Looking forward to the wisdom you will impart to our graduates. Kindly remember no cursing, blue humor or compliments of any kind about a person’s looks.


Oh. And if you exceed 15 minutes, your microphone will be cut off, in fairness to the Short Attention Span Club.


Remember, inclusive, inclusive, inclusive! It’s what makes our university so exclusive.


Warm regards,


Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via email at malbom@freepress.com.




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