April 7, 2023 | OPINION | By Zoraiz Zafar
Considered to be an essential component of graduation ceremonies, commencement speakers are endowed with the seemingly onerous task of instilling inspiration and motivation in the minds of newly-minted graduates. As these young scholars prepare to embark on a lifelong journey of exploration and growth, commencement speakers have the distinct honor of leaving a permanent mark on the lives of these graduates.
In selecting a commencement speaker, college administrations place a tremendous emphasis on choosing someone whose life and career students can look up to and be inspired by. In the context of Colorado College’s Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2023, it is my opinion that former Representative Liz Cheney ‘88 fulfills those criteria to a great extent.
Now, as someone who disagrees with many of Cheney’s political views, I cannot and will not defend every single one of her policy positions. However, I will respect her right to hold those views. Because the concepts of open mindedness, ideological diversity, and constructive debate lie at the center of a successful liberal arts education. We see study after study showing that racial and socioeconomic diversity improve institutions in every way possible. Surely, diversity of thought affects our institutes in a similar manner.
In today’s national political climate, most people are locked in their comfortable echo chambers, where the only people they converse with are those who share exactly the same beliefs as them. Friends, neighbors, and even family members have been disowning each other because of differences in political beliefs. And what has this led to? A more divided and polarized society than we have ever seen before.
This polarization has had considerable consequences of its own. As civilized political discourse between conservative and liberal elements continues to diminish, people on both sides are being pushed even further to the extreme edges of the political spectrum. Not only does this create animosity within communities, it also brings governmental reforms to a screeching halt, as has been witnessed in the last few years.
But promoting difficult conversations is not the only reason I support the decision to invite Rep. Cheney as our commencement speaker. When I look at her credentials, experience, and contributions, the first thing I see is not that she is a Republican, but that she is a CC alum who has demonstrated three key values throughout her professional life: leadership, service, and courage.
Through serving the United States in various federal positions for several years, representing the state of Wyoming in the U.S. House of Representatives for six years, and rising to the third-highest rank within the House Republican leadership, Rep. Cheney earned national recognition for our institution.
When it came to choosing country over party in the wake of the Jan. 6 Insurrection and election denialism, Rep. Cheney sacrificed every ounce of political capital she had built over many years to do what was right. By serving as the Vice Chair of the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack, Rep. Cheney represented, on a national stage, the lifelong values that Colorado College seeks to inculcate in its students.
But she voted with former President Trump almost 93 percent of the time, right? Sure, but what would you do if you represented the country’s most conservative state? Personally, I would consider it a dereliction of duty if she had chosen to forgo the voices and opinions of her constituents to pursue a personal political agenda. In fact, her voting record is a testament to the fact that she was amongst a small group of politicians who could put aside their personal differences in the interests of their constituents.
In my final thoughts, I will reiterate one central point; opposing the decision to have Rep. Cheney as the 2023 Commencement Speaker because of her political views is somewhat contradictory to the very values that we are all here to learn. After all, I am a firm believer in the idea that you learn the most from the voices and the people that you most disagree with.