AMHERST — Without once uttering President Trump’s name, Jake Tapper, chief Washington correspondent and CNN anchor delivered a rousing 2018 UMass Commencement address urging graduating students to be everything the president is not.
“We are in a moment when humanity and decency are being eroded, when the very notion of empirical fact is being attacked,” Tapper said to the graduates who appeared spellbound. “It will have to be your generation that leads our nation out of this darkness.”
In a speech that touched on traditional graduation fodder like finding one’s passion and learning from mistakes, Tapper also spoke about freedom of speech, critical thinking, democracy, and basic human decency as he decried the corrosive culture present on the Internet and in today’s political discourse. He urged students to rise above that.
In a football stadium on the UMass Amherst campus, a graduating class of 5,500 was joined by some 20,000 parents, relatives, friends, and well-wishers Friday evening.
For the first time, every person who entered the stadium had to go through metal detectors operated by the company that handles security at Gillette Stadium.
“This has evolved into something many institutions are doing. We think it’s good best practice and a good security precaution to have in place,” said UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski.
Although Tapper never mentioned Trump’s name, he told of his young daughter’s reaction to a “certain presidential candidate” who mocked a disabled person.
His daughter cried, Tapper said, and asked him: “Why would someone do that, Daddy?”
“We’re at a time when we cannot look to Washington to exemplify what we want our kids to follow.”
He told students that the generations ahead of the graduates were failing them.
“I realize that the nation right now is not exactly a crash course in exemplary behavior,” he said. But when indecencies become normalized, he said, decent people must speak out against them.
“Mean is easy. Mean is lazy. You know what takes effort? Being kind, being respectful,” he said. “When you embrace the humanity of everyone, you give yourself room to grow.”
Thomas Randolph, a 21-year-old mechanical engineering major from Richmond, said he found Tapper’s address “very insightful.”
“It hit close to home,” he said, “setting the tone for generations to come.”
Andrew Mulcahy, 22, of Westford, another mechanical engineering major, said the speech was a good look ahead for the graduates.
“I liked especially how candid he was,” said Mulcahy. “It was a good speech to prepare you for what’s to come.”
In his address, student speaker Tenzin Thargay of Roxbury also didn’t shy away from politics. A first-generation American-born Tibetan who majored in political science and Chinese language and literature, Thargay drew loud hoots and applause when he said: “The US is and always has been a land of immigrants. My family story and those of our community represent the mosaic of cultures threading our nation and UMass.”
He, too, urged students to work towards decency.
“In order to be effective leaders for the 21st century, we also need compassion,” he said. “In an era of national and international divide, we must extend more compassion to one another and recognize the interdependence and commonality to heal, collaborate, and advance.”
In his remarks, Tapper compared today’s political climate to the poisonous era led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. During the McCarthy years, he said, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican from Maine, spoke strongly against McCarthy’s bigotry. Today, she is remembered as a hero for the courage she exhibited.
“You know who isn’t remembered as a hero? Almost every other politician in Washington at that time,” Tapper said.
He urged graduates to use “all the critical thinking skills you have learned over the past four years” to question and engage with what they see in the news.
And he left them with this message: “Avoid the masses. Love what you do. Love who you are. Be nice to each other. Embrace the humanity within everyone, especially people you don’t understand.”Laurie Loisel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org