Published January 13, 2015
Arizona Sen. John McCain received a cantankerous reception Friday at the New School's commencement, where dozens of faculty members and students turned their backs and raised protest signs and a student speaker mocked him as he sat silently on stage.
The historically liberal university has been roiled in controversy in recent weeks over the selection of the Republican and likely 2008 presidential candidate to speak to its 2,700 graduates and thousands of family, friends and faculty.
The Madison Square Garden crowd cheered loudly as Jean Sarah Rohe said McCain "does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded."
Rohe, one of two distinguished seniors invited by the university's deans to address the graduates, spoke before McCain did but noted that he had promised to deliver the same speech he gave at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University last weekend and Columbia University on Tuesday.
"He will tell us we are young and too naive to have valid opinions," Rohe said. "I am young and though I don't possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that pre-emptive war is dangerous. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Usama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction."
McCain later thanked Rohe for her "Cliff's notes" version of his speech.
Sticking to the remarks he made in earlier speeches, McCain reaffirmed his support for the Iraq war but urged debate and dissent. And he repeated the theme that drew Rohe's derision.
"When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed and wiser than anyone else I knew," McCain said.
As he delivered his remarks, several dozen students and faculty turned their backs and lifted signs saying "Our commencement is not your platform."
Some 1,200 students and faculty had signed petitions asking the university president, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, to rescind his invitation for McCain to speak, saying McCain's support for the Iraq war and opposition to gay rights and abortion were not in keeping with the prevailing views on campus.
Kerrey urged students to exercise the open-mindedness he said was at the heart of the university's progressive history.
"Sen. McCain, you have much to teach us," Kerrey said toward the beginning of the ceremony, drawing a smattering of boos and hisses.