Narcissism and intolerance on campus

Published 7:39 pm Friday, June 9, 2017

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

“This is about us,” said the Notre Dame student, looking into the camera.

The young man was speaking about the commencement exercises at his university, as he explained why he was upset that Vice-President Mike Pence had been invited to speak at his commencement.

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What the student meant by, “This is about us,” is that he believed the Notre Dame administration should not have invited a speaker who would cause controversy, when, in his view, the commencement should have been about a celebration of the students.

This is wrong on so many levels that I scarcely know where to begin. But let’s just think about two of them.

First, that perspective is profoundly narcissistic. Graduation exercises are not just about celebrating the students and their achievements.

Their parents, grandparents, friends and other family members, have helped the students reach this important milestone. In the case of the parents, they have usually paid many thousands of dollars to help the student attend college. Their teachers have invested in them and helped them get to this point.

So the commencement exercises are not just about the students.

Furthermore, a commencement ceremony is not primarily meant to offer congratulations to the graduates. It is meant to impress upon the graduates the responsibility they now have to go forth and make a difference for others. They are to use their education to serve a higher cause than themselves.

The second problem with the Notre Dame controversy is this: Many of the students walked out as the vice president began to speak. This, to them, was a form of political protest. The students were offended that their commencement speaker was someone with whom they disagreed politically.

This raises all kinds of issues about the kind of education students are getting in many colleges. Is not college supposed to provide an atmosphere in which people from many different sides of the political spectrum can openly reason, debate and make arguments? Aren’t educated adults supposed to learn how to courteously listen to those with whom they disagree? Isn’t it just plain rudeness to walk out on a speaker, simply because they hold a different view?

Aren’t we supposed to respect the office of a person like the vice president of our country, even if we disagree politically with the person who occupies that office?

It should be pointed out that the dozens of students who walked out on the vice president represented a relatively small minority of the graduates, and the majority seemed to be booing them as they walked out.

But all across the country, colleges and universities are dealing with this kind of behavior. This is not just a Notre Dame problem.

The biggest concern is that these students don’t seem to understand the virtue of listening to those with whom they disagree. They don’t seem to understand the virtue of measured reasoning and a sincere seeking of truth.

What if they had heard that Vice President Pence was speaking and said, “I disagree with him on many things, but I am going to listen well, and perhaps I will learn something that will add to my knowledge”?

That would have shown true maturity. But maturity is the one thing these students don’t have.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.