A few anti-war students turned their backs but more stood to applaud as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received an honorary degree and addressed graduates at Boston College on Monday. After weeks of turmoil and anti-war protests over Rice's invitation to address the Catholic school, Rice told graduates that their education comes with responsibilities.
She drew scattered applause when she discussed what she called a "commitment to reason," or an obligation to test and challenge their own views. "There is nothing wrong with holding an opinion and holding it passionately," Rice said, "but at those times when you are absolutely sure you're right, go find someone who disagrees."
About 50 students stood with their backs toward the stage as Rice was introduced to give her commencement speech, but they were quickly drowned out by a standing ovation. A half-dozen signs that said "Not in my name" were held in the air by students, who sat down by the time Rice started to speak. One banner that said "BC honors lies and torture," referring to the initials of Boston College, was held on the side of the stadium, away from where the students were sitting. Police had it removed within a minute.
Other students cheered Rice, and an Internet broadcast of the ceremony included a shot of a student, talking on his cell phone, with an "I Like Condo" button pinned to his graduation cap.. Earlier Monday, Rice said she understands why students and faculty planned to protest, and she embraced their right to object even as she defended the war in Iraq.
"People have the right to protest, but I hope when they protest they realize also that people now have a right to protest in Baghdad and Kabul, and that's a very big breakthrough for the international community," Rice said Monday before the BC commencement.
"I think it's just fine for people to protest as long as they do so in a way that doesn't try to have a monopoly on the conversation," Rice told WBZ-AM in an interview. "Others have right to say what they think as well." Ever since Boston College announced earlier this month that Rice would speak at the school's graduation and receive an honorary degree, reaction has ranged from outrage to enthusiasm.
Aiding UW, 34, of Boston, who was receiving an MBA on Monday, wore a "Not in my name" sign on her mortar board. "I'm very upset that they invited someone so political," she said. "It causes unnecessary controversy for our commencement." Paul Kiln, a professor in the graduate school of social work, said commencement day is a day to "remind ourselves and the community who we are and what we stand for."
"Most of the faculty hold her in high esteem and would welcome her with open arms on any other day," he said. Police kept a handful of protesters 100 feet (30 meters) from the site of the commencement ceremonies. Among them was Jerome Keith, 24, a graduate student in philosophy, who passed out red "Not in my name" flyers. Most people ignored him as they made their way into the stadium.
"BC wants to make a big name for itself," Keith said. "But I think we sacrificed much of our values. We are a Jesuit institution. We stand for justice and peace." Opposition to Rice was ignited after the school announced May 1 that she'd be speaker and receiving an honorary degree. A letter written by two theology professors claimed Rice's approach to international affairs was "in fundamental conflict" with the school's commitment to values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions. It was signed by more than 10 percent of the faculty. One adjunct professor resigned in protest.
Despite the opposition, there have been expressions of support for Rice, a former provost at Stanford University. Political science professor Marci Lanky has said the opposition letter was a "grotesque mistake" and sent his own letter asking colleagues not to sign it, reports the AP.
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