If Not For America…Then Who?
Monday, November 7th, 2016 @ 12:00PM
It was my nephew’s college graduation. Everyone was excited – the graduates, their families, the professors and staff members. The ceremony was held outside and the weather was perfect, clear skies, warm sunshine, a light breeze carried the scent of freshly bloomed flowers across the picturesque southern campus. It was a magical moment in time. But it didn’t last long.
I had never heard of the keynote speaker. Nevertheless, according to his introduction, he was a long-serving professor at the college and was greeted warmly by students and faculty. But that didn’t last long either.
Within minutes of taking the podium, he began to decry America and, in his words, her many failings and injustices. “America,” he said, “has a guilty conscience, as well she should, for her sins are many.” At that, I sat more upright in my chair. I could see the heads of those sitting in the audience, students and family members alike, turning back and forth. We were all wondering the same thing – “Where is he going with this?” It didn’t take us long to find out.
The keynote speaker then launched, full-bore, into a most vitriolic diatribe against America, accusing her of being a nation bent on destroying minorities and the poor. “The destruction of the Native American culture is a dark stain on America’s past, as is the enslavement and abuse of my own African ancestors.”
At that point, the crowd had had enough. First came the boos, one here, two there, until, it seemed, the entire crowd, parents and students alike, booed in unison. Next came the shout downs, “Hey, what’s your problem?” “This isn’t about you!,” “How do you know, you weren’t even there!” Finally, a graduate stood up and turned his back to the speaker in silent protest. Many of his peers and many of their parents followed suit until nearly half the crowd was standing with their backs to the stage. It was an amazing sight, indeed.
When the audience’s protests to his protest began, he, like a bad comedian in front of a tough crowd, attempted to continue delivering his stand-up routine. However, the audience, convinced his anger and negativity had no place at a college graduation ceremony, persisted in their open rejection of his message until, finally, he turned from the podium prior to finishing his speech, walked to his chair, and sat down. I had never seen anything like it.
On my way home after the ceremony, I wondered about the speaker’s motivations and about the anger that drove him. His inappropriate remarks destroyed the celebratory spirit of the occasion. He indelibly marred the event and, in so doing, took something from the graduates that cannot be restored. He stole their moment, for which they all had worked so hard, and made it about himself.
I also wondered if he ever recognized and acknowledged anything good about America at all – the very nation that gave him the opportunity to become a college professor, to marry and have a family, to own a home and cars and nice clothing and to eat healthy food and drink clean water, to go out to dinner and a movie or go on vacation, to have access to the world’s best health care system, and to sleep peacefully in his own bed at night. I wondered if he ever once considered what his life would have been like had he been born in Rwanda, or Uganda, or North Korea, or China.
That isn’t to say that America is perfect. Certainly, mistakes have been made, and injustices perpetrated. But do those imperfections completely negate the many positive advantages America has given to her citizens and to the world? After all, if not for America, then who would have given the world an example of freedom and democracy unequaled in human history?; who would have created a system of peaceful transfer of governmental power that has endured for more than 200 years?; who would have composed and ratified the world’s oldest and most highly regarded constitution in existence?; who would have graced the world with transformative documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights?; who would have successfully defended the world against Nazism, Fascism, and Japanese Imperialism?; who would have drawn back the Iron Curtain and brought an end to the Cold War?; who would have flown the first airplane, put men on the Moon, developed antibiotics, invented computers, radios, televisions, telephones, etc., etc., etc.?
For all its faults, there is no nation in human history that has contributed more to the advancement of human health, freedom, and dignity than America – that is the message the speaker should have imparted to my nephew’s graduating class on their special day, a day that should have been all about them. Further, he missed an opportunity to encourage the graduates to receive the baton of America’s greatness and run full speed into an even brighter future for our nation and the world beyond. After all, if not for Americans, then who?