I don't remember who spoke at my commencement - either of them. My best friend's girlfriend was valedictorian, which was a total shock at the time as I had never even noticed that she was all that smart. I might have fallen asleep from complete exhaustion at my grad school graduation. I hope for this next (last?) one, I'm well-rested and old enough to appreciate whatever stellar scholar, statesman, or activist (!) is chosen to impart wisdom on my not so new steps out into a not so new world. That one is still a few years away. As a faculty member, I teared up on more than one occasion at the small, College of Architecture ceremonies where the full faculty and student body march together into the salon space of our building, and we let go of the hands we have held so tightly (see the blog entry three weeks ago) and reward their unique skills and often flamboyant personalities with big name and beautiful book awards. The Randy Beavers award has always been a personal favorite, awarded (if I remember correctly) to the graduating senior who lives life to the fullest and exhibits some form of computer savviness. Almost inevitably, that award is given unanimously and with little debate. The Randy Beavers winners are quirky visionaries - odd, energetic, funky, some would say dancing to the beat of their own drummer, but they sparkle.
Today Barack Obama received an honorary degree and gave the commencement address for the graduating class of 2009 at Notre Dame University. It was controversial for a pro-choice President to be given such a dual honor at a Catholic University. It was controversial, and brilliant. Brilliant for Notre Dame, sure, because they are a University first, a place of learning and a center of knowledge whose faculty and graduates most certainly want to be a part of national debate on important issues. But what was truly brilliant was the speech itself or, rather, the event itself. Today issues of women's rights, reproductive freedom, prevention and wellness, humor, humility and educated options took center stage and close-mindedness, narrow visions, cynicism and condemning rhetoric were rebuked. Today our President recognized the opportunity, like he does on occasion, to take often litigious animosities and daylight them on common ground. There are objectives we can all agree on, he said, and for those where we do not, let us all have the decency and maturity to conduct intelligent and informed debate at the common table of humanity. His is a world free of extremists, and I want to live in that world.
Though Obama received a standing ovation on entry to the ceremony and loud support for his pro-active stance to reduce unwanted pregnancy and support stem cell research, several key figures in Notre Dame administration refused to attend. Notre Dame President Emeritus Theodore Hesburgh was shown regularly on camera with a face blank of any expression (this may or may not have been intentional or negative, but the guy was most definitely not clapping). Obama referred to "Father Ted's" accomplishments several times in his speech, but the most moving was the last. As this date marks the 55th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision that integrated our schools, Obama recalled the Civil Rights Committee appointed by President Eisenhower that influenced the 1964 legislation. Father Ted was on that committee. From Obama's speech:
And years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.
The fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history. It's the telling as much as the tale, is it not? Remember that next time you find yourself arguing with an unreasonable zealot.
For those who don't see the world our way, Obama said, that's alright. That's alright, he said, as an abortion protester screamed out during his speech; we do not shy away from discomfort. And we do not do things easily. To me, those are the most significant diversions from the path of the eight years prior. Mediocrity is easy. Sarcasm and cynicism are easy. Compromise for the sake of compromise is easy. Laziness is the path of least resistance. What isn't easy is getting it right, doing the work. What isn't easy is demanding the best case scenario, the best quality, the fairest option, the most thorough information, and an outcome that is good, not just good enough.
In California, we have an election this coming Tuesday. It's astonishing the difference between the values inherent in Obama's speech and those latent in the California initiatives. It's not a big election, so it's not content that I'm comparing so much as approach. As you may or may not know, California is going bankrupt and its legislators submitted their annual budget months and months beyond the official mandatory deadline. This alone led to a financial crisis as government-paid employees were forced to take unpaid days off and reduced pay to help ride out the unknown conclusions. When a budget was finally delivered, California found itself deep in a bad financial hole.
Propositions 1A-F that we will be voting on this coming Tuesday are supposed to help fill in some of that hole. I'm no economic or government expert, but in reading my ballot and my 63 page voter reference guide, my conclusion is that the California legislators are lazy, baffled, and ineffective. This is obviously not news to some, but even a glance at the quick reference guide shows the absolute absurdity of the current measures. Try this one: Voting Yes on 1C means both that "Lottery payments to educational institutions would end, and the state General Fund would increase its payments to education to make up for the loss of those lottery funds" and "Prop 1C guarantees schools get the same level of lottery funding as they do now." These two sentences are in the same column of the same government-produced voter education guide. The summary in the back tells us that it's this very General Fund that is facing a $40 billion shortfall over the two year span from 2008 - 2010. So, if 1C is approved, do schools get the same level of lottery funding they do now, or do they get replacement funding from the already bankrupt General Fund? Both? Neither? Nothing?
Each of these propositions seems to be some form of complicated shell game, where money is borrowed from the future, moved from here to there, and those who lose out are the educators, the children of the poor, and the mentally ill. An LA Weekly article quotes Paul Goodwin, a researcher on how this ballot is being received, as calling it "paralyzing-confusing". Yes, and then some. Again quoting the voter information guide:
"The 2009-10 budget depends on access to about $6 billion related to three propositions on this ballot - $5 billion by borrowing from future lottery profits (Proposition C), up to $608 million by redirecting dedicated childhood development funds to help the General Fund (Proposition 1D), and about $230 million by redirecting dedicated mental health funds to help the General Fund (proposition 1E)".
If these are not passed, "the Legislature and the Governor probably would need to agree to billions of dollars of additional spending cuts, tax increases, and/or other budgetary solutions to bring the budget back into balance. It is unknown what these alternative actions would be, as they would be determined after this election." Probably?
Oh, and it goes on: "Even with the adoption of the 2009-2010 budget package and assuming that all of the propositions on this ballot pass, it is expected that the state would face multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls in the coming years.... Consequently, based on current projections, the state will need to adopt billions of dollars in additional spending reductions, tax increases, or other solutions..."
So, the options are this - we can, on Tuesday, say it's okay to cut K-12 educational spending, children's services, mental health services, and simultaneously raise taxes OR we can refuse to grant consent to our 'leaders' irresponsible treatment of our most vulnerable, most marginalized, and most at-risk and demand that they go back to the drawing board and seek options that are not mediocre, lazy, and abusive.
In light of all that, 1F we should all approve. This initiative prevents pay raises for our legislators in budget deficit years. My gosh, how generous.
For more information, give it your own shot at www.voterguide.sos.ca.gov
Bonus photo of Notre Dame architecture graduates with building models on their mortar boards a la Beaux Arts Ball: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30796091/displaymode/1176/rstry/30782728/