When my family traveled to Montreal over twenty years ago, we visited the landmark St. Joseph’s Oratory. This massive church sits on the hill for which the city is named.
A very long, steep, stone path and stairway leads from the street to the basilica’s doors. After having climbed the stairs and seeing St. Joseph’s grand, ornate interior, we descended the stairs on that overcast summer Saturday afternoon. As we reached the path’s midpoint, a long-dark-haired, thirty-something woman with large, dark eyes wearing a black blouse was climbing, very slowly, up that path on her knees, only. She wore the most rueful expression. I briefly wondered what she had done to feel such guilt and show such contrition. She still had a long way to climb.
About ten years later, in Managua, I saw some Nicaraguans offer similar expressions of knee-bloodying penance during a crowded, multi-mile Good Friday Carretera Masaya procession to their Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
People will have a range of reactions to these manifestations of regret and faith. I suppose many Americans would see such actions as psychotic, and/or might not even agree that the deed(s) for which the knee-walkers were painfully confessing were bad. The irreverent might even wonder if Robert Plant wrote Stairway to Heaven after visiting Montreal.
But I admired the Canadian woman and the Nicaraguans. Conscience is important. I wouldn’t crawl long distances across stone on my knees to expiate my sins. I think sincere repentance is enough. Though maybe there are some actions for which I’d feel sufficiently guilty that I’d want to injure myself, I haven’t crossed that threshold yet.
During this year’s commencement ceremonies, college officials will address students who—despite never being at risk from a respiratory virus—have spent three years under the weight of school closures, mask mandates and computer screen lectures. Hey, what happened to those small groups of students seated on campus lawns—presumably, earnestly discussing big ideas—that have been depicted in every package of college promotional material ever? Dude, where’s my quintessential college experience?
Students have also been subjected to vaxx mandates.
This May, college officials will humiliate themselves by wearing the goofiest imaginable, floppy tams, robes and hoods during commencement processions and ceremonies. It’s part of their mystique. But these officials won’t—though they should—traverse campuses on their knees to atone for their sins of the past three years. Whatever that Montreal woman or those Nicaraguans did couldn’t have been half as bad as what college administrators have done to the young people about whom they were supposed to care.
The college administrators won’t even say words of apology.
I received, from Alan Lash, an e-mail account of last week’s commencement speech by Cal Berkeley Chancellor, incongruously named Carol Christ, to students who were freshmen when the Scamdemic began. According to this e-mail:
She spent almost her entire speech talking about the “challenging times” that were thrust upon the students, the pain they have suffered and how they endured. She might have said “pandemic” once or twice, but mostly I came away with the impression that she was speaking about some vague, horrible thing that just happened outside of anyone’s control.
The simple fact is, of course, that the school directly, and the Chancellor herself, caused that pain and the “challenging times.” There was no contrition, which I didn’t expect, and yet it was still surreal. I’m sure that she believes in her head that she didn’t really have anything to do with the pain that students suffered while she herself meted out that suffering. To talk of it as though it was some abstract event was even weirder. I’m used to most people blaming “the pandemic,” but she didn’t even do that. I struggle to make sense of this peculiar attitude that the Chancellor actually penned in a speech that she delivered to the whole graduating class and their families.
I suspect that such oblique denial will be common this May.
If I had been in Berkeley, I would have booed and heckled Christ—the Chancellor, I mean. I did so at one of my kids’ high school graduations, during which the speaker, a small-town Board of Education member, spoke about national politics and offered her trite, partisan perspective on society’s ills. I thought that high school graduations were about congratulating students—including, in our town, many who would likely never graduate from any other school or have their names read publicly again—for grinding out thirteen years of work, and to celebrate together with the people with whom they had grown up.
Now, more than ever, those who abuse public office need to know that this won’t be tolerated.
Traditionally, college commencement addresses are corny or grandiose exhortations for grads to devote their lives to serving others. But this year, commencement speakers should show self-awareness and focus on how badly they and their peers have failed their students and an entire generation of young people during the past 38 months. They need to apologize profusely, specifically and at length.
Commencement speakers need to cast aside the phony, passive, “mistakes were made” voice. They must reread Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and actively own their persistent, politically-motivated and willful Coronamanic malfeasance, and all of the depression it caused and will lastingly cause students of the past three years, as they live with holes in their lives where memories and relationships should be.
In addition to apologizing for what they’ve done, officials who closed schools should resign and forfeit their pensions. But they won’t. Because people of integrity wouldn’t have closed schools or mandated masks and vaxxes in the first place.
Reposted from the author’s Substack