Dear Mr. Zoellick,
As concerned members of the Swarthmore Class of 2013, we would like to apologize for your treatment in the campus discourse over the past two weeks. Regrettably, we understand that this has led to your decision to withdraw as Commencement Speaker at our graduation this June. While we appreciate your sensitivity to the special nature of our ceremony, we write to ask you to reconsider your decision to withdraw. We do so not only because we believe that diversity of thought enhances our community, but also out of genuine interest in your life and career. Moral action comes in many forms and variations, and we believe that as a valued member of our community you can serve as a model for many of us.
You are no doubt aware that some students have objected to the College’s decision to honor you at graduation. What you should know is that a significant majority of students were extremely distressed with the way in which these objections were raised. A small group of students misrepresented your record and created a confused discourse of misinformation. As members of the senior class, we are embarrassed by the manner in which this conversation took place. Many Swarthmore students were eagerly looking forward to learning from your incredible and varied life experiences. We believe that your work in German unification, Darfur aid relief, and gender equality in development, among many other accomplishments, deserve our respect and attention. Your presence at Commencement would substantially enrich our experience.
Equally important, we believe that a fundamental principle is at stake: members of our community—students and alumni—must and should be treated with respect no matter their background or political beliefs. When we exclude those of different perspectives, we impoverish our discourse and the diversity of our community. Although some Swarthmore students may not share your every political belief, many view you as an esteemed role model who, as President Chopp said, “combines knowledge with service, ethics with outreach, and wisdom with a commitment to the wider world.” That an unrepresentative, vocal minority of students appealing to “Swarthmore values” can effectively exclude you from Commencement sends a troubling message to those who view your career as an inspiration for their own. It suggests that Swarthmore can be defined by a narrow set of political ideals. We believe otherwise. We believe our community should be open to a broad array of political viewpoints, and must never be closed off to those who dissent from majority views. We believe that you are as much a Swattie as any one of us, and should be warmly welcomed at our Commencement.
We humbly ask you in this light to reconsider your decision, and to join us at Commencement this June.
Op-ed submitted by Sam Sussman ’13, Joan O’Bryan ’13, Hannah Gotwals ’13, Katharyn Schultz ’13, Daniel Duncan ’13, Jennifer Koch ’13, Sonja Spoo ’13, Tiffany Barron ’13, Yuan Wang ’13, Paul Shortell ’13, and Lorand Laskai ’13.