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NEW YORK TIMES reporter Chris Hedges booed off stage at Rockford College graduation

A New York Times reporter delivers an antiwar speech that offended many.
ROCKFORD — New York Times reporter Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College’s graduation because he gave an antiwar speech.

Two days later, graduates and family members, envisioning a “go out and make your mark” send-off, are still reeling.

Guests wanting to hear the author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter are equally appalled.

And College President Paul Pribbenow is rethinking the wisdom of such controversial topics at future commencements. This is Pribbenow’s first graduation.

Hedges began his abbreviated 18-minute speech comparing United States’ policy in Iraq to piranhas and a tyranny over the weak. His microphone was unplugged within three minutes.

Voices of protest and the sound of foghorns grew.

Some graduates and audience members turned their backs to the speaker in silent protest. Others rushed up the aisle to vocally protest the remarks, and one student tossed his cap and gown to the stage before leaving.

Mary O’Neill of Capron, who earned a degree in elementary education, sat in her black cap and gown listening. She was stunned.

She turned to Pribbenow and asked him why he was letting the speech continue. He said it was freedom of speech. Pribbenow later said when people stop listening to ideas, even controversial ones, it is the death of institutions like 157-year-old Rockford College.

In tears, O’Neill left the ceremony.

Her husband, Kevin, sat in the audience with their daughter and was as indignant as his wife.

“This is a ceremony. ... The day belongs to the students. It doesn’t belong to a political view,” he said.

Hedges, a war correspondent, criticized military heroic ideals that grow during war. The fervor sacrifices individual thought for temporarily belonging to something larger, he said.

Hedges sympathized with U.S. soldiers. He characterized them as boys from places such as Mississippi and Arkansas who joined the military because there were no job opportunities.

“War in the end is always about betrayal. Betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and idealists by cynics,” Hedges said in lecture fashion as jeers and “God Bless Americas” could be heard in the background.

After his microphone was again unplugged, Pribbenow told Hedges to wrap it up.

Elinor Radlund of Rockford read Hedges’ book on war and was horrified at what she said was the audience’s rude behavior. She was indignant she couldn’t hear the speaker.

“They were not behaving as people in an academic setting, where you’re supposed to be open to a great many ideas,” Radlund said.

Pribbenow said Rockford College takes no political stance, but the job is to challenge students. He reminded audience members of the liberal arts college’s commitment to listening to other viewpoints.

It didn’t happen.

Spontaneous reaction led 66-year-old Gerald Kehoe of rural Boone County down the aisle in his first time to protest anything. He was hurt to hear a verbal attack on the country. He attended Saturday’s commencement to watch his daughter graduate, the fourth from Rockford College.

Rockford College political science professor Bob Evans said it’s a reminder of the “raw edges of emotion” on the issue.

A student who rushed the stage could face reprimand although he still received his diploma.

“It’s important to go on the record that it’s inappropriate behavior,” Pribbenow said.

Contact: cwatters [at]; 815-987-1242
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by Antigone Phalares (antig1 [at]
I was appalled to read of the reception of Chris Hedges' commencement address at Rockford College in Illinois. I heard Mr. Hedges interviewed Bill Moyers and on the Jim Lehrer News Hour, and I have read Mr. Hedges's book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. In fact, it was thanks to his accurate description of the myths about war and the groundswell of false patriotism, that I was able to understand what was happening around the country. For the first time, I was intimidated to put a pro-peace bumber sticker on my car. I was nauseated by the flag-waving jingoism that spread like a virus. I realized how reluctant U. S. citizens are to have meaty dialogues with co-workers and friends about politics, unlike most citizens of other countries around the world. I'm horrified that graduating students are blind to the manipulation of the facts by the Bush administration.
Chris Hedges is a courageous voice for reason and common sense. There is no honor or courage in war, only fear and cowardice.
by CarrotTop
Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College’s graduation

"I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking. It cannot be so easily discovered if you allow him to remain silent and look wise, but if you let him speak, the secret is out and the world knows that he is a fool.
by Sue Kinsella
I for one was a guest at this graduation and was appalled at the lack of respect for the graduates and their guests by Mr. Hedges. I agree that freedom of speech is a wonderful thing but one must always understand the venue. This was not the time or the place. I must say I have a college student attending a state university and I am glad that my dollars did not go here for this display of controversial agenda for my student's graduation. Two other of our children have graduated from Universities to encouragement and insightfulness of the freedoms and opportunities we all receive here in America.
Mr. Hedges has the opportunity to book speeches and write his books but leave it where it belongs.
The president of this college should have thought this through and reacted to the students as they have worked very long and hard for what they have achieved.
He should be reprimanded for this error.
by Jesse N. Holmes
I believe in the right of free speech. I believe in the right to disagree. I believe in the right to protest. I also believe in knowing what is appropriate behavior. Though not required, I believe that commencement speakers should be mindful that an appropriate speech is one that is designed to address the hopes and dreams of those graduating. I believe that a commencement address should not be a platform to express political views, whether they are a reporter's anti-war sentiments or the President's pro-war policy.

I also believe in appropriate behavior in expressing disaproval. I believe turning off a mic or rushing a stage has no place in an institution of "higher education". I believe that such antics would not have been displayed if the President or a member of his administration had given a speech in support of the war.

I believe, that as disappointing the event might have been, clearer heads (on both the part of the speaker and his critics) should have prevailed.
by Joan Fortescue
I am very proud of Chris Hedges for trying to educate the graduating audience. Nothing that he said was untrue. His opinions were based on facts that too many "so called Americans" refuse to look at. As to the free speech issue, the College President, of course, was 100% on target. I'm sure he must be totally ashamed of the graduates and families who tried to stop the speaker.
What has democracy come to -- or do we have democracy any more??
by Justice
Probably not.
by ElfSensorship

First, thank you Chris Hedges!

And so all those so and sos posting about "how you have to temper your remarks to some sort of easy to take pablum becuase of the tender times we are in and the tender minds graduating from college... boo, hoo, hoo... poppycock! This is the real world and Bush Junta has this country seriously off on the wrong track (to say the least). So, if Hedges presents some difficult ideas, too damn bad! Wake up and smell the coffee

So, this smells like some kind of republican dirty ttrick to me. I want to see more video of who instigated this "protest" and you know it only takes a few and then you'll have some stupid dumbass "students" following along like trained circus animals.

I'm so sick of all the republican fucking lies and when someone like Hedges tells some truths, you get all in a panic and upset. You who did this against Hedges are disgusting and you should all have your degrees cancelled for your utter failure in American and World History.

Stupid Dirty Tricks don't cut it, shitheads!

by filter
Try going to see a right-leaning speaker at UC Berkeley and see if the same exact thing doesn't happen...
by blah
"Try going to see a right-leaning speaker at Berkeley"....

Huh. I didn't think there was such a thing.
by Erik Christian von der Veer
"Mary O’Neill of Capron, who earned a degree in elementary education, sat in her black cap and gown listening. She was stunned. ........In tears, O’Neill left the ceremony. "

Hmm, I guess it's time to rename American Liberal Arts Colleges and call them "Arts" Colleges of Ignorance if they continue in failing to educate pathetically uninformed students such as Miss O'Neill. I would suggest that she read the following speech:

Commencement Address at American University
President John F. Kennedy
Washington, D.C.
June 10, 1963


by Peter Striver
I wouldn't be happy having my graduation exercise turned into a political diatribe by Mr. Hedges BUT the behavior of the crowd was totally inappropriate. Whether the crowd is at Rockland with MR. Hedges or at Berkley acting juvenile to some other-than-traditional-liberal speakers, common courtesy if nothing else dictates better behavior by the audience.

Mr.Hedges was invited to speak. If there is a fault it is with the administration for scheduling an inapproprate speaker, not for Mr. Hedges speaking what he did.

By the way, Hedges is from the NY Times, did anyone check out where he may have copied his speach?
by Sasun Vartanyan (sasairport [at]
How ironic that the folks who booed Mr Hedges off the stage would be the first ones to rally behind the lie that our presence in Iraq is to help the Iraqi people to have a free speech of their own..Hypocracy at its worst when we can not even grant that right to our citizens...
by circus dog
Hedges was not "censored" by the audience. He was an invited guest, and chose (freely) to tick off his audience with a rant against a war we had just brilliantly won.
Freedom of speech is not a guarantee that you will be listened to..or that the students have to sit quietly while you ruin their graduation ceremony with your anti-US bilge.
by Richard Briggs (rebriggs_usa [at]
I am 80% finished with Chris Hedges book, "War is a force..." and find his views anything but to get upset about. On the contrary, he points out some valid truths that well deserve our understanding. What is happening to 1) common courtesy 2) Freedom of expression 3) the spirit of questioning among our college age generation and 4) our Nation--where so many seem to have abandoned the princiiples on which have relied so successfully for 230 years.
by Michael G
When a country sends its boys to war, you better hope that there is some spirited debate as to the appropriateness of such action, especially when the country is not under threat of imminent attack. I therefore find it odd and pathetic that some have suggested that an academic institution is not the right place for the exchange of controversial ideas. I'm sure many students would have preferred to hear that the world is a warm and fuzzy place and they are all just warm and wonderful folk. Too bad this isn't the reality. I am Canadian and British, having arrived in this country to live for the first time two years ago. I am dumbfounded at the lack of genuine freedoms and openness, the absence of liberal values in this counrty compared to what is accepted as the norm in most western democracies. Why do Americans not practise what they preach?
by jbusch
Have you listened to the speech? I have, in its entirety on the radio. It was not a graduation speech- it was a rant.
This man was invited to deliver a commencement address. In our culture, this is understood as a chance to deliver some inspirational, and challenging words to the students in the audience as they enter the "real world". Hedges was completely out of line. He rudely disregarded the context of the event, to spew a slanted, and deliberately incendiary speech that had nothing to do with the students, the moment, or (frankly) the facts.
To call this a free speech issue is silly. Hedges had no right to hijack the student's "big day". The students also have the freedom of speech to boo him off stage.
by The History House (historyhouse [at]
Those who think that what occurred regarding Chris Hedges’ speech involved just freedom of speech are mistaken because it was also about power, where Mr. Hedges thought that he had the power to force his ideals onto others that he thought were held captive to his rhetoric because of their attending a graduation ceremony.

Freedom of speech does not mean absolute freedom or else any adult would be free to shout any obscenity that wanted at anyone, to include children, without consequences. People would stand up in the middle of church services or during movies, to say what they wanted to include falsely shouting “Fire,” without consequences. People could make oral threats to kill anyone, to include threatening to kill the President, without consequences.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely also includes when people believe that they have the absolute power to say anything they want, at any time, without consequences. Speech should be properly utilized to enrich us not in ways that leads the misuse of it the way those like Hitler and Goebbels did to brainwash others into their way of thinking.

Those who protest too loudly about the denial of freedom of speech are those who most often abuse its power and who are also the least likely to preserve freedom of speech by their loss of life to defend it since those who most complain on matters concerning freedom of speech failed to served in the military when that often criticized entity is what preserves the freedoms we have.
by Riobard
"Those who think that what occurred regarding Chris Hedges’ speech involved just freedom of speech are mistaken because it was also about power, where Mr. Hedges thought that he had the power to force his ideals onto others that he thought were held captive to his rhetoric because of their attending a graduation ceremony. "

What makes you think that Mr. Hedges was going to say anything more or less than what were his well-known position. It may possibly be true that the opinions that Mr. Hedges has may the minority opinion in the present United States. It may also be true that they were opposite to what many of his audience held. I think Mr. Hedges or any other speaker from whatever end of the political spectrum shoul be faulted only if the attempted to obfuscate or cover up the positions they really held.

The truth is that much of the American public has moved to the right and even extreme right. Moreover, they have been coached, cajoled and urged by right wing spokesmen and opinonmakers not to tolerate "liberal" ideas or opinions.

There's been a "my country right or wrong" mentality developing and an unwillingness to tolerate any dissent or questioning when it comes to US policy.

A generation ago, another audience would have politely listened to the speaker even if they disagreed with him. Free speech then was more generally understood to include the right of others to say things you did not agree with.

Here is the text of Chris Hedges speech.

It isn't that radical although it might include some opinions that some people on the right don't like to hear.

by iagree
in a world full of dark allies i would prefer to encounter someone like mr. hedges. Nice and soft like anyone who agrees with him. He lives in a world void of reality where one can assume the most virtuous opinions of humanity. Unfortunatly 90% of the worlds population does not. It's easy to say what he said as a sheltered individual, but, it's another thing to deal with actuality. In the real world as he lies freshly beaten only lightend of his money and manhood. He is not worth my time as he is blatently a softee. Hint to lefties: stop propping up effeminate males it only makes people more malleable.
by conservatives are morons
"In the real world as he lies freshly beaten only lightend of his money and manhood."

Unsubstantiated Allegation.
by jbusch
"conservatives are morons"... unsubstantiated allegation.

For more about logic, ask the loser who continually posts the same tedious response everytime someone commits a breach of logic.
by anti-moron
"Conservatives are morons" is not an unsubstantiated allegation, as you are indeed proof that CONSERVATIVES ARE MORONS. Would you even know logic if it bit you on your ass?
by jbusch
Ad-hominem attack.

For more on logic, ask that annoying guy....
by that annoying guy
Try rephrasing it as, "Conservatives often behave like morons because . . ."

You finish the sentence.

Personally, I suggest, " . . . because there is not a dime's worth of difference betweeen them and the liberals."

But there are *plenty* more reasons to choose from. What's your personal favorite?
by C. Watters (wemoore [at]
Yes, I think that Chris Hedges comments were inappropriate for a college graduation. Golly, we are all Americans living here. i think it is totally uncalled for an author to give an anti-American commencement speech. The graduates need to learn to live here and need encouragement to do their best out of love for their country. That is the word that would give life to the graduating students. Not a polemic against the leadership of our nation. He makes my skin crawl and I am thrilled that people made it clear they would not listen to his reasoning. His words belonged in a Socialist Party meeting not at a college Commencement. Mr. Hedges showed tantamount poor judgement in his choice of words and the College showed poor judgement in hiring him. How arrogant of him to denounce the efforts of soldiers still under fire in Iraq! Peace and All Good things, William Robert Moore SFO
by Riobard
I don't think Mr. Hedges was denouncing the efforts of the soldiers (who are mostly trying to survive long enough to come home). He did denounce leaders who put our soldiers in harms way.

Okay Mr. Watters, why are we in Iraq? There were no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 (Why didn't we invade Saudi Arabia?) We've spent tens of billions and put tens of thousands of soldiers in harm's way, maybe to save Iraquis from their evil leader. The evil leader is gone. The deed is done. If Iraquis don't want us in their country anymore, why don't we bring our boys home?

On the question of who showed poor judgement, the jury is still out. History will tell whether they US gained anything by invading Iraq or whether we have invited ourselves into a catastrophe.

Some of the students who listened to Mr Hedges may take his words to heart, and not follow their leaders blindly. I think Chris Hedges was giving them good advice, better than what our governments leaders are giving. George Bush et al. is not fighting terrrorism. He's inciting it.

Again, here is his speech.

What exactly, are we getting ourselves into? What is the reason we are putting our young men and women in harms way, the purpose some will die for? Are we fighting to defend the country? or to establish an empire?
by jbusch
Personally, I think that Chris Hedges should be put in front of a firing squad. All Muslims should suffer the same fate, as well.
by +
Zionazis target Africans and Muslims, how predictable!
by Angie
Why the fuss here?

It was a very thought provoking and intelligent look at the US and what it has become.

I would have expected most people with independent minds to appreciate it.
by jbusch
I dont mind if you disagree with my legitiamate comments, or even if you curse and call me names, but please do not impersonate me and post vile anti-Muslim attacks like the one posted above. I have never posted nor held any animus against Muslims except those who are our legitimate enemies.

If you cant make an argument without putting false words in my mouth, do us all a favor and just read quietly to yourself. Jerk.
by circus dog
you go, girl.
That was not an impersonation.
by the real jbusch
The above post entitled "My view" involving Muslims and a firing squad was a hoax. Funny how people who claim to be so interested in the truth, and complain about distortion in the media will stoop to putting words in the mouths of their opponents.
Then why did it come from the same IP number?
by jbusch
Maybe because you are lying? It could not possibly have come from this computer, or my keyboard.

It is really kind of sad that so-called "independant media" stoops to this kind of win at any cost tactic.

By the way, I would certainly support firing squads for the terrorists detained at Gitmo, but certainly not for Hedges, or "all Muslims".

Grow up, people.
by onlooker
This thread has degenerated into an IP contest.
by Colleges of Ignorance
Colleges of Ignorance if they continue in failing to educate pathetically uninformed students?

what an article,the fact is that a "liberal arts collage"
graduate class collectively rejected the imposed will of the faculty gives me great hope for this graduate class
now......if this would only happen at berkeley!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
by Riobard
Prof. Pribbenow, President of Rockford College gives a perspective that has been missed in the media hype.

"Rockford College students are educated in the best of the liberal arts tradition. They are taught to think critically, act decisively, and lead their lives with conviction. Whether they agree with Mr. Hedges or not, the great majority of our graduates did the right thing on their final day as Rockford College students.

Second, we hoped to have an address that would include a timely message for graduates about the world. In the aftermath, we have been pulled into a raging national debate between radically different ideological and political positions. The result is not at all what we intended, and I am very sad that a day of celebration became an occasion for continuing disrespect, misinformation, and demagoguery.

Commencement is a time to recognize the accomplishments of those who are graduating. It is also a time to address important issues that will face our graduates as they take up their responsibilities as well-educated citizens. Certainly there is no more timely issue for our world today than war.

We chose Mr. Hedges because his book about war is grounded in strong liberal arts scholarship and reflects a balanced perspective on war in human history and experience. We expected him to address the graduates through the lens of the book and his work as a war correspondent. Perhaps he would have – if he had been allowed to finish his speech."

For more links related to the Rockford College incident, see:

The incident reflects a deep and still growing polarity in this country over an issue that effects all of us. Chris Hedges attempted to deliver a message to Rockford College students about something that would have a major impact on their lives as adult citizens.

Such a polarity and such uncival reactions occurred in the 1840's and 1850's over the subject of abolition. The polarity then led to the Civil War.

The significance of the incident at Rockford College may be in what it portends for future.
by carla
14 years later, through the lens of hindsight, we can look back and see that Mr. Hedges found himself in 2003 on the right side of history at a time when it wasn't politically expedient for him to do so. I would hope that same speech given today would be better received than it was back then.
by Jerry Brandow (jerrycb [at]
Your characterization of Hedges for denouncing the invasion of Iraq as a "lack of respect for the graduates and their guests" and the statement of your belief that before presenting an uncomfortable truth "one must always understand the venue" underscores Hedges statement that "the dominant culture, even the liberal elites, will push you to the margins and attempt to discredit not only what you do, but your character."
Thank you for your authenticity.
by Erica
Wonder if the graduates learnt anything from the US intervention in Iraq, a violence undertaken in the name of ‘security’, has functioned to devastate families in the US, thousands of veteran deaths, the suicides continue to this day and the loss of trust and principles of democracy that the US was set out to accomplish.

Most of those so called Graduates - would probably be canon fodder enrolled in some military uniform or busy making minimum wake baking fry's at the local McDonald.
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