April 7, 2023 | NEWS | By Charlotte Maley
It was a chilly night on March 18 at Colorado College. Only a few days before the news that spring had come, students were dressed in heavy sweaters as they made their way through the late evening in the direction of E. Cache la Poudre St.
Just a short walk past the 7/11 and a row of houses already asleep was a house lit up by LED blue lights which echoed the muffled sound of a bass guitar. Two of the school-favorite bands, Seeking the Sun and The Keeps, were performing inside the small house, but that’s not the only reason that students decided to spend their night there.
This wasn’t a regular show, after all, for there was no entrance fee. However, there was a petition to sign. This was, after all, the “Commencement Speaker Protest Show.”
Just a few days before this ‘protest show,’ Colorado College announced to the student body the 2023 commencement speaker: Elizabeth Lynne Cheney. Daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney graduated from CC in 1988 with a degree in Political Science. She then went on to have an incredibly active career in government and, arguably, a considerable role in U.S. history.
The former Wyoming Republican and highest-ranked woman in the GOP lost both titles after standing up against President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 attack on the capital. Her condemnation of former President Trump not accepting a peaceful transfer of power, even in the face of severe opposition from many in her party, cost her a career, but she didn’t walk away empty handed.
In July of 2021, Cheney was appointed to the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi following her “courageous defense of democracy,” – a epithet given to her upon receiving an award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
By losing her favor amongst American republicans, the neoconservative has won unlikely support from many liberals and famed members of the democratic party. The decision to invite Liz Cheney to speak at CC, however, has caused incredible strife amongst the student body.
Anyone who has walked around campus in the last few weeks has noticed a long, spiral notebook fashioned poster explaining the reasoning behind the discontent with Cheney. This announcement was put up after a heated debate in the senior GroupMe chat, where over 60% of the members who participated in the vote voted to petition her invitation to come speak.
The discussion was a long one, where students on all sides vehemently expressed their opinion on the matter. Seniors in favor of her coming to the 2023 graduation ceremony spoke about free speech, redemption, and open discussion while those in opposition to her coming expressed concern about her problematic past and ‘hateful’ political views.
Students who were ‘anti’ Cheney began accusing students that supported her speaking as selfish, homophobic, and even began comparing them to Nazis.
“Forgive me for not wanting someone who has voted against my right to marriage to speak at my graduation,” wrote one senior in the GroupMe.
Many in the class chat began suggesting alternative speaker options, such as alumni and actor Dean Winters.
“Literally so many other people,” wrote another student in the chat, “than Liz fucking Cheney.”
In defense of Cheney, one student suggested the school get Chat GPT to do the speech, as to make sure no one ‘controversial’ ever comes to CC. One senior suggested that, in the future, seniors should elect the speaker, as opposed to the system where the admin chooses.
At the protest concert held just east of Ed Robson Arena, the petition that was floating around got a good number of signatures. However, not everyone that signed it seemed completely clear about what it was for or even who Liz Cheney was.
“I don’t know a lot, but I know that there’s a lot of controversy,” says Taylor Jenkins ‘26, “I would like to know more, but right now, I don’t fully understand it. I mostly just like the bands.”
A few other students who signed the petition admitted to only knowing that she was republican, and nothing more. Another student expressed feeling pressured to sign it.
This lack of understanding and deliberate consideration, however, was not held by everyone. Jose, a senior and petitioner at the event who didn’t want to use their last name, had been following Cheney’s career for years.
“I really respect her and her ability to own up to her mistakes,” said Jose. “I just don’t think that her prior actions show enough change to really value her being able to come to Colorado College… I just don’t think that she embodies CC’s values at all.”
Jose thought that many seniors were in a similar boat, explaining that they respect her, but don’t feel that she is ready to be forgiven for her past transgressions.
Like many in the senior class, Jose expressed desire to have her as a guest, such as First Monday speaker, where dialogue would be more appropriate.
“I think that commencement should be a celebration. We’ve put so much hard work into [our education] and having Liz Cheney there would be such a distraction to all of that. Even if we don’t do a protest [as seniors], there’s going to be some sort of protest the day of,” said Jose.
Ever since the initial launch of the petition, seniors have periodically met with members of the administration, including President L. Song Richardson. Having heard many opinions and strong feelings, the president has thought long and hard about the debate but came to the decision alongside the cabinet and board that the school will proceed with Liz Cheney as the commencement speaker.
“We recognize that some of our students are hurting because they strongly disagree with some of Liz Cheney’s positions,” President Richardson stated, “[However], we recognized that one of the challenges this generation will face is the threat to democracy that comes from the increasing polarization of our country.”
According to Richardson, Liz Cheney is not accompanying seniors this year on graduation because of her political beliefs, however, she is invited for the bravery and other virtues that she has demonstrated these past few years. The president also stressed that, despite rumors circulating around campus, Cheney will not be receiving any payment for the commencement speech.
As the situation unfolds, the cabinet and the president will be holding a discussion space for students in Worner Center in the near future and will be participating in an ongoing discussion for how to avoid a situation like this in the future.