A few 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” was held on the side of the stadium, away from where the students were sitting.
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 Condi” button pinned to his graduation cap.
Rice welcomes protesters
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.
“We are very concerned as Catholics that Boston College has invited Condoleezza Rice, who is an architect of this foreign policy and war. ... That is hardly something to honor,” said Brayton Shanley, a BC alumnus and co-founder of Agape, a lay Catholic organization that has been working with students to organize the protests.
At the ceremony Monday, demonstrators planned to wear black armbands and turn their backs when Rice is awarded an honorary law degree. Students also will hand out leaflets and stickers with messages, including “Not in my name” and “No honorary degree.”
University spokesman Jack Dunn told the student newspaper, The Heights, that all have agreed to keep their protests respectful and not disrupt the ceremonies.
University officials also expect protests off-campus.
Opposition starts with theology professors
A letter written by two theology professors, and signed by more than 10 percent of the faculty, kicked off the opposition to Rice.
“On the levels of both moral principle and practical moral judgment, Secretary Rice’s approach to international affairs is in fundamental conflict with Boston College’s commitment to the values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions and is inconsistent with the humanistic values that inspire the university’s work,” the letter said.
The Rev. David Hollenbach, one of the letter writers, has said he has no objection to Rice speaking, but said she doesn’t deserve an honorary degree.
Steve Almond, an adjunct writing professor, resigned from his post over the matter.
“I think Americans have lost sight of the idea of sacrifice,” he said. “This is a relatively small sacrifice for me.”
Rice said the use of force in Iraq was “the right thing.”
“I’m not surprised that there was controversy, but my understanding is that there are views on both sides of the issue,” she said Sunday at meeting with a small group of reporters.