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By CARRIE WATTERS, Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD New York Times reporter Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College's graduation because he gave an antiwar speech.

Two days later, graduates and family members, envisioning a "go out and make your mark" send-off, are still reeling.

Guests wanting to hear the author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter are equally appalled.

And College President Paul Pribbenow is rethinking the wisdom of such controversial topics at future commencements. This is Pribbenow's first graduation.

Hedges began his abbreviated 18-minute speech comparing United States' policy in Iraq to piranhas and a tyranny over the weak. His microphone was unplugged within three minutes.

Voices of protest and the sound of foghorns grew.

Some graduates and audience members turned their backs to the speaker in silent protest. Others rushed up the aisle to vocally protest the remarks, and one student tossed his cap and gown to the stage before leaving.

Mary O'Neill of Capron, who earned a degree in elementary education, sat in her black cap and gown listening. She was stunned.

She turned to Pribbenow and asked him why he was letting the speech continue. He said it was freedom of speech. Pribbenow later said when people stop listening to ideas, even controversial ones, it is the death of institutions like 157-year-old Rockford College.

In tears, O'Neill left the ceremony.

Her husband, Kevin, sat in the audience with their daughter and was as indignant as his wife.

"This is a ceremony. ... The day belongs to the students. It doesn't belong to a political view," he said.

Hedges, a war correspondent, criticized military heroic ideals that grow during war. The fervor sacrifices individual thought for temporarily belonging to something larger, he said.

Hedges sympathized with U.S. soldiers. He characterized them as boys from places such as Mississippi and Arkansas who joined the military because there were no job opportunities.

"War in the end is always about betrayal. Betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and idealists by cynics," Hedges said in lecture fashion as jeers and "God Bless Americas" could be heard in the background.

After his microphone was again unplugged, Pribbenow told Hedges to wrap it up.

Elinor Radlund of Rockford read Hedges' book on war and was horrified at what she said was the audience's rude behavior. She was indignant she couldn't hear the speaker.

"They were not behaving as people in an academic setting, where you're supposed to be open to a great many ideas," Radlund said.

Pribbenow said Rockford College takes no political stance, but the job is to challenge students. He reminded audience members of the liberal arts college's commitment to listening to other viewpoints.

It didn't happen.

Spontaneous reaction led 66-year-old Gerald Kehoe of rural Boone County down the aisle in his first time to protest anything. He was hurt to hear a verbal attack on the country. He attended Saturday's commencement to watch his daughter graduate, the fourth from Rockford College.

Rockford College political science professor Bob Evans said it's a reminder of the "raw edges of emotion" on the issue.

A student who rushed the stage could face reprimand although he still received his diploma.

"It's important to go on the record that it's inappropriate behavior," Pribbenow said.
Yikes... 20.May.2003 17:04


Wow, that's fucked up. Although, I get the sense that the journalist blew the whole thing out of proportion.
<p>On the other hand, my school's president got momentarily booed during my graduation because he fired the basketball coach for strangling and shoving kids, so we probably shouldn't underestimate the stupidity of the lowest common denominator.

Fucked up 20.May.2003 17:51


This creeping fascism is FUCKED UP! I'm scared Bush has stolen America's stole and it's going to be along time (if ever) before we get it back.

For the 2 previous commenters 21.May.2003 06:27


Oh, I see. It's fine for anti-war socialists and anarchists to disrupt meetings, boo people off the stage, and throw pies at speakers, but when it happens to one of your own it's a horrible fascist violation of his free speach rights. You can't have it both ways people.

How is this differnet 21.May.2003 08:58


How is this different than when Ehud Barak was stut down from speaking at campuses across the county? I saw posters cheering that here, free speech is not selective.

Tkae this as a lesson

how it's different 21.May.2003 12:44


It's different when the speaker represents the views of those commanding mighty armies, vs. someone representing their own views. A mighty big difference indeed.

Nice job, Chris! 21.May.2003 13:46


Again, this proves that colleges are nothing more than processing plants devoid of any critical thought. The "God Bless America" chants have that same familiar ring as any mindless jingoistic chants, such as "Seig Heil", "Ave Caesar", "Bansai", "Go Blazers", etc. Let's face it folks, commencement speakers, irrespective of their political allegences or eloquence, are barely listened to, much less, so moving as to whip the audience into a frenzy [either for OR against]. This is obviously a political ploy to upstage a credible speaker who clearly states in no uncertain terms that the "EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES. " Mr. Hedges should be flattered that the lockstep chickenhawk neonazies are that worried about what he as to say. Nice job, Chris!

Indeed 21.May.2003 14:25

anne frank

Good for Mr Hedges! He likely knows from his long experience with humans that any publicity is good publicity. The participants came with foghorns? Interesting.

Jane Addams, Rockford College's most famous alumna, would be familiar with this behavior. She spent a bunch of time in prison being force-fed and raped for speaking truth to power but she never stopped.

Freedom of Speech 24.May.2003 17:43

R. Bell

In America the freedom of speech has forever been lost because of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. Sad that we can no longer express our thoughts with freedom that we once cherished here in America.
However, I think Mr. Hedges should of put his feelings aside, the war is over, it was graduation day & it was there day , not Mr. Hedges day. His opinions did not matter at a moment when families gathered to see this hard earned event come about only to disrupt the cermonies at hand. Good Luck graduates!

Afraid of the Truth 24.May.2003 19:27

Larry McClung laga@mcclung.biz

As a retired college professor who has long believed in the liberal arts ideal, I am shocked and saddened to see college graduates not only unwilling to listen when truth is being told, but to try to violently suppress the messenger from speaking his truth as well. This is eloquent testimony to the failure of modern 'education' to achieve its most basic task of teaching students to think critically and to see through the propaganda and mythology promoted by the wealthy elites that control the government and most powerful institutions of society. Real education, the kind that Chris Hedges got as a war correspondent, is clearly subversive to state-sponsored totalitarian thought.

STUDENTS DAY 28.May.2003 13:10


chris hedges should be ashamed of himself. he was invited to give an inspiring address, instead he ruined a very special day for these graduates. he made the focus his own personal beliefs when it should have been the students obtaining their goal - graduation!! he stole somthing very precious and it can never be replaced.

Typical Limousine Liberal tripe 06.Jun.2003 15:53


"Hedges sympathized with U.S. soldiers. He characterized them as boys from places such as Mississippi and Arkansas who joined the military because there were no job opportunities."
I work with these boys from Miss and Ark, and they sure as hell don't need this low-life's pity! They're 10X smarter than Mr Hedges, and exponentially more in love with this country and freedom. Mr. Hedges is just a loser correspondent who couldn't handle math and science in HS, so was channeled into this pseudo-intellectual field we know as: journalism!

freedom 14.Jun.2003 21:44


It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is is soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier,
Who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Father Denis Edward O'Brien, USMC

although many alongside myself don't agree with hedges, he does have a right to speek his voice. at the same time others do have the same right to blast his views down, especially at such a public speaking; just asking for it.

to the man of the cloth 09.Sep.2003 16:20

didn't risk my balls for cheap gas

pop O'Brien -I guess your position is that the sword is mightier than the pen, eh?
I think you must be high on that narcotic of war which as Chris Hedges
has said from experience, is the most addicting experience.
-And you purport to represent the teachings of the Messenger of Peace and Love.
For Shame dude!