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Protesters' concerns linger after graduation ceremony
The Lantern - 7/14/2002

The June 14 commencement address delivered by President Bush stirred young graduates to action, both through volunteerism and political activism.

But controversy has erupted over the university's response to potential protesters and protesters present at the address.

Graduates, and all guests, were asked to respect the president and not to obstruct the view or hearing of others, said Ohio State University spokesman Randy Dunham.

"It's a graduation, a celebration," Dunham said. "We expected there to be some dissent, but we did not expect there to be any disruption or behavior that got out of hand."

"This is not an issue of the First Amendment; no one was told you can't protest," Dunham said.

Only one man, from Marion, Ohio, was arrested for not putting out a cigarette while in the stadium, Dunham said.

Justin Schwartz, a 1998 graduate of the Moritz College of Law, sent a letter to many university officials "about the suppression of free speech and peaceful dissent" of protesters.

"The university officials threatened to use their power to stop constitutional rights," Schwartz said.

"People were terrified to speak out," Schwartz said. "It's not surprising he did not get a lot of opposition."

Gillian Davis from the American Civil Liberties Union said the ACLU is "concerned" and is investigating allegations of First Amendment rights violations of protesters.

"They said if you made a spectacle they would ask you to leave," said Eric Luse, a 2002 graduate present at commencement rehearsal. "If it was bad enough they would keep your diploma."

Bush kept his words "brief and forgotten" as he offered his congratulations to the graduates, urging them to continue their accomplishments through service to their neighbors, character and country.

"The achievements that last come from the justice, compassion and service," he said.

Americans have responsibilities to be aware of the need for kindness, understanding and love for others, Bush said.

"Each has a bond to every other American," he said.

Volunteering must come from each citizen's desire, Bush said.

"No one can tell you how to live your life," he said. "Service in America is a matter of conscience."

Bush asked the graduates to help improve society by using their leadership skills and ambition to become more proactive.

"America needs full-time citizens," he said.

In addition to giving the commencement address, Bush received an honorary doctorate in public administration.

"I leave here a proud member of the class of 2002," he said.

There were few disruptions during Bush's speech despite efforts from protesters who urged graduates and guests to "turn your backs on Bush." Three graduates and six audience members — one draped in a Palestinian flag — actually did turn their backs but were hardly noticed by the crowd of about 60,000.

In his last commencement speech as OSU president, William "Brit" Kirwan expressed his close ties to the class of 2002.

"When I came to this wondrous university in the summer of 1998, I did not realize that, like some of you, I was on 'the four-year plan'," he said.

Kirwan leaves OSU on Sunday for his new role as chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

In his parting remarks, Kirwan called for graduates to reach their potential and make a difference in their families, communities and world.

"A great education is truly valuable only when it is put to the use in the service of humanity," he said. "It is your responsibility to use your fine education to insure a high quality of life for all the generations that will come after you."

Richard M. Hill, former professor and dean of the OSU College of Optometry, earned the Distinguished Service Award. Since his retirement in 1995, Hill has continued research at the university on new materials and care systems for contact lenses.

Three others joined Bush by being honored with honorary degrees.

George M. Steinbrenner III was presented with a degree in business administration for his success as primary owner of the New York Yankees and partner of the New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils.

Princeton University professor of sociology and public affairs, Marta Tienda, received the honorary doctorate of social science. Her research is centered on racial and ethnic inequalities, economic sociology and higher education diversity.

Walter E. Massey, the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, was awarded an honorary degree in science.

—Lantern editor Megan E. Walsh contributed to this article

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