McCain Speech Gets Unfriendly Reception

The New School's graduating students and faculty members protest the selection of Sen. John McCain (R) as commencement speaker.
The New School's graduating students and faculty members protest the selection of Sen. John McCain (R) as commencement speaker. (By Frank Franklin Ii -- Associated Press)
By Beth Fouhy
Associated Press
Saturday, May 20, 2006

NEW YORK, May 19 -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) received a cantankerous reception Friday at the New School's commencement, where dozens of faculty members and students turned their backs and raised protest signs and a student speaker mocked him as he sat silently on stage.

The historically liberal university has been roiled in controversy in recent weeks over the selection of the Republican and likely 2008 presidential candidate to speak to its 2,700 graduates and thousands of family members, friends and faculty.

The Madison Square Garden crowd cheered loudly as Jean Sarah Rohe said McCain "does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded."

Rohe, one of two distinguished seniors invited by the university's deans to address the graduates, spoke before McCain did but noted that he had promised to deliver the same speech he gave at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University last weekend and at Columbia University on Tuesday.

"He will tell us we are young and too naive to have valid opinions," Rohe said. "I am young, and though I don't possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that preemptive war is dangerous. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction."

McCain later thanked Rohe for her "CliffsNotes" version of his speech.

Sticking to the remarks he made in earlier speeches, McCain reaffirmed his support for the Iraq war but urged debate and dissent. And he repeated the theme that drew Rohe's derision: "When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed and wiser than anyone else I knew."

As he delivered his remarks, several dozen students and faculty members turned their backs and lifted signs saying "Our commencement is not your platform."

About 1,200 students and faculty members had signed petitions asking the university president, former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey (D), to rescind his invitation for McCain to speak, saying McCain's support for the Iraq war and opposition to gay rights and abortion are not in keeping with the prevailing views on campus. Kerrey urged students to exercise the open-mindedness that he said is at the heart of the university's progressive history.

"Senator McCain, you have much to teach us," Kerrey said early in the ceremony, drawing a smattering of boos and hisses.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company