Albright protesters must yield to grads

In less than three weeks, College of Liberal Arts graduates will walk inside Williams Arena for their commencement. What is unclear is whether they will be joined by Progressive Student Organization members. PSO members have vowed to protest in the presence of the commencement speaker, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The University already faces many challenges to accommodate Albright’s visit. Not only will Albright’s speech shift plans for traditional CLA graduation ceremonies, but her political history makes many question if she should be the keynote speaker. Given the likelihood that Albright will speak, the compromise rests with respectfully giving all sides involved their appropriate space and time.
Albright’s scheduled appearance came out of convenience. Her out-of-country trips in May made her unavailable for most college commencements. But the University’s June 14 graduation date accommodated her schedule just right. At the ceremony, Albright will address a major foreign policy issue. Her past policy decisions, however, might shift the focus of any new foreign policy announcements. PSO members said they will protest outside of the 2 p.m. ceremony at Williams. They oppose Albright’s visit mainly because of her past U.S. foreign policy stances. They hold Albright largely responsible for the number of people that have died in relation to U.S. decisions about Iraq, the 1991 peace accords and various economic sanctions.
PSO members said they do not want to ruin the day for graduates and they will try their best not to. The comments come nearly three months after protesters, including PSO members, drowned out a speech by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In February, about 70 protesters stood outside of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs during Bill Richardson’s speech. The protesters eventually went inside the building and challenged Richardson about U.S. policy while 150 people listened. A similar episode will occur if protesters form outside Williams. Protesters could eventually drown out other voices that could be a memorable part of graduation.
If PSO members don’t want to ruin graduation like they said, giving Albright her time on the ceremonial platform will accomplish that. Many students have worked four or more years to get to this moment. Before leaving the University, the decision whether to hear Albright’s speech should be the choice of graduates. Many students have expressed excitement to be amid the presence of someone with such high stature. As the nation’s leading foreign policy maker and the first woman secretary of state, Albright as a guest is a historical event for the University.
Not only could Albright’s speech be silenced if protesters are too loud, but conversation between graduates, their friends and family members outside the arena will be disturbed. Pictures will also be difficult to take as camera frames try to cut out protesters in the background. PSO members have a right to speak and express their views. But they should only speak for themselves, not for other students. A protest away from the space designated to graduates on June 14 would get the same message across.