I've had to savor and save this question for a while. As a matter of fact, there has been an unofficial gag order all across the Knollcrest campus for the 60 days following President George W. Bush’s address at Calvin this spring, but that gag order has now expired, I think, and I can provide you with a brief answer to your question.
But it may be necessary to provide a little context first.
Not everyone is aware of it, but there are some people in the United States who really, really like President Bush, and there are some people who have a different opinion. This difference of opinion and affection is what academics, journalists and pollsters refer to as political and cultural polarization, and this specific instance of polarization exists all across the world, extending even into western Michigan and onto the campus of Calvin College. It’s probably true that the majority of American citizens at Calvin voted for President Bush in the last election, but that doesn’t alter the fact that there are many people at Calvin who did not.
You can probably imagine what happened in the days following the announcement that the president would be the Commencement speaker for the Class of 2005. But just in case your imagination fails you, here’s a brief chronology that will help you see the larger picture.
Thursday, April 21, 2005 (10:19 A.M.): Provost Joel Carpenter announces to the Calvin community that President Bush has been invited to be the 2005 Commencement speaker.
Thursday, April 21 (10:21-10:35 A.M.): A bloody pre-commencement brawl breaks out in the snack bar (Johnny’s), becomes a fracas on the college green, mutates into a melee through Hiemenga Hall, and is finally contained by students, staff, worship apprentices, and faculty exiting the morning chapel service. Three students and 15 faculty members (insurgents all) are treated for non-life-threatening and largely self-imposed injuries. Barricades are documented and archived by local political activists and art historians. A not-so-young New Historicist has to be rescued from danger while she tries to record the order of battle of a separate skirmish on the East Campus between the communication arts and sciences and political science departments. There are scattered reports of food fights across campus.
Thursday, April 21 (noon to midnight): President Gaylen Byker takes refuge in the safety of DeWit Manor, while the eerie calm of an enforced curfew prevails on campus.
Friday, April 22: National Guard troops and conflict resolution squads take up strategic positions on campus — on top of the observatory, the Fine Arts Center, the Bunker Interpretive Center and the Prince Conference Center; Campus Safety receives no further reports of physical conflict. By the end of the day, all students, staff and faculty retreat to off-campus locations to regroup and reconsider.
Monday, April 25, 2005: Students, staff and faculty prepare for the Advising and Reading Recess.
Tuesday-Wednesday, April 26-27, 2005: Advising and Reading Recess.
Thursday, April 28, 2005: Honors Convocation in the Fine Arts Center, with political slogans and cultural catcalls alternating with the reading of the names of high-achieving students.
Friday, April 29, 2005: The weekend arrives, and talk is dominated by plans for debate, discussion, letters and placards, instead of fists and bovver boots. Several Canadian students publicly threaten a Young Republican with a slap shot; no damage is reported.
Monday-Friday, May 2-6, 2005: Departmental awards ceremonies, picnics, concerts, recitals and the circulation of petitions to secede from the Union.
Monday-Friday, May 9-13, 2005: The last week of classes, with final exams to begin at the end of the week.
Monday-Thursday, May 16-19, 2005: Final exams; fund-raising for oppositional advertisements in the Grand Rapids Press; supporters of Bush assume continuation of political and cultural hegemony.
Friday, May 20: Exhausted students, staff and faculty forswear further acts of violence and pledge to engage only in a war of words. Subversive alumni ad appears in Press.
Saturday, May 21, 2005: Open letter appears in Press; President Bush arrives on campus, delivers Commencement address, presses the flesh of many members of the Class of 1955, and leaves; ceremony continues and concludes, and graduation festivities extend through afternoon, evening and weekend.
There you have it, Shocked. What could have been a month-long war of attrition turned into a civil debate with no further blows exchanged — the only weapons employed were words, phrases and the occasional independent clause. It was a victory for civility, non-violence, freedom of expression, the Class of 2005 and their friends and families, the Grand Rapids Press and the placard merchants.
That’s what really happened. And it’s over — you’ll wait for the show trials in vain.
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