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New College’s ceremony was a joyful event. But then juvenile ‘rebels’ took away the joy.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune – The New College of Florida faculty chair’s May 29 guest column regarding the college’s graduation exercises, co-authored with five other faculty members, was a distortion.

I know, because I attended the graduation ceremony.

In fact, the evening of the ceremony was beautiful and the view of Sarasota Bay from the grounds of the Charles Ringling Mansion was spectacular, as it always is.

The feeling was joyful.

The chancellor of Florida’s university system was there. He, the college’s trustees, president, faculty and the invited speakers paraded to the stage with the usual pomp attendant to these events. The graduates’ families and guests filled the seats under a huge tent protecting all from the sun. Smiles abounding, the joy was palpable.

New College President Richard Corcoran welcomed all and then introduced, representing the faculty, Dr. Heidi Harley, who shared how her research in dolphin psychology taught her lessons about human interaction – and particularly about the importance of listening.

The joy was evident in Heidi’s voice throughout her speech.

Mark Famiglio was the next speaker, and he was on hand to represent the New College alumni. Mark came to New College from a Northeastern state at age 15, graduated at 18, stayed in Sarasota and became a visionary businessman and philanthropist.

With a humorous reference to how he learned to mix the ingredients of meatballs while working in the college’s dining hall, Mark shared how New College taught him that mixing freedom with personal responsibility was necessary to live a successful life.

Mark felt honored to introduce Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, and highlight the achievements of a man of modest means who changed an entire industry through the revolutionary use of technology. Joe made direct access to the financial markets available for the first time to middle-class Americans. Now a billionaire many times over, Joe has already invested in New College’s project to expand classical liberal arts education.

It was clear that Mark felt the joy of recognizing the genius of a trail-blazing pioneer like Joe.

What followed, however, was disheartening.

Before Joe even said a word, a chorus of boos erupted from the graduating students’ seats. Then, when Joe actually began to speak, F-bombs erupted from the student section. When one of the unruly students was told by security to take his seat, he responded by starting a chant of “Free Palestine!” – and then, as if on cue, some of the graduating students joined in.

The disrespect of the “tolerant” made it impossible for Joe to continue. We could hear him say, “They don’t want to hear me” as he left the stage accompanied by President Corcoran.

The joy was gone.

The next speaker, New College’s student body president, had a chance to make things better.

But she didn’t.

The student body president didn’t offer a single word of apology for how Joe Ricketts had been treated. Instead, the speaker, who also served as a student trustee on the New College Board of Trustees, chided her former fellow board members for being difficult to work with. Then, claiming particular concerns for fiscal responsibility and the well-being of New College students – as if her fellow board trustees had no such similar concerns – the student speaker postulated it was the pursuit of virtue, guided by Cicero’s wisdom, that allowed her to work with people she didn’t really like.

She acknowledged the students’ ovation with an effusive smile.

As one professor put it to me: “Education should result in people being able to listen deeply and take turns in conversation. That we have students engaging in such juvenile behavior is not a good sign for how they’ve been educated in our culture and at New College.”

Last year’s graduating students made a fiasco of the commencement exercise, shouting down the speaker and justifying their immaturity as a protest against an illusory “right-wing takeover” of New College.

This year, sadly, the deficient work of some of the faculty in teaching students about life outside the ivory tower –and, in particular, the destructive leadership of the faculty chair and her acolytes representing the last vestiges of the left-wing activism that had long poisoned New College – was still evident.

A dysfunctional subgroup of the graduating students showed their lack of seriousness in a sickening mix of the heckler’s veto and a “cool” historically ignorant antisemitism – the flavor of the moment for juvenile “rebels.”  And then, to protect them, the faculty chair has intentionally distorted the truth.

What better evidence could be presented for the need for change at New College of Florida?

Thank God it came. And may the joy return.

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