Commencement means beginning, and so it’s natural that most commencement speakers impart advice upon the graduates as they enter the real world. A good commencement speaker will also challenge the graduates and that’s exactly what New York Times columnist Bret Stephens did at Hampden-Sydney College.
“So let me ask you: Are you ready — really ready — to leave this safe space?” the conservative columnist asked the graduates at the all-male college in Virginia.
He told them to leave the phenomenon of safe spaces behind on college campuses. Stephens pointed out the notion of “safe” spaces often comes at a cost, ironically risking things like safety and ideological freedom:
In the name of being “safe,” it is becoming increasingly difficult for campus administrators to guarantee the physical safety of controversial visiting speakers.
In the name of being “safe,” the job security of professors and administrators has been put at increasing risk — lest they espouse, teach or merely fail to denounce a point of view that contradicts the political certitudes of the moment.
In the name of being “safe,” students with traditional religious values or conservative political views now feel decidedly unsafe about expressing their views on campus.
He added the safe space culture on college campuses hurts the “central task” of a liberal arts education, pushing out concepts such as debate, disagreement and the ability to question ideas.
“You’ll be facing an uphill battle,” he told the graduates. But by leaving their own safe spaces, the graduates will be better for it, Stephens suggested. And the world will be too:
Members of the class of 2017: Do not close your ears to opposing points of view. Otherwise you cannot learn. Do not foreclose the possibility that you might change your mind. Otherwise you cannot grow. Do not lose sight of the fact that you are not in possession of the whole and only truth. Otherwise you will fail to notice your mistakes, and so suffer their consequences.
Above all, do not forget that the world would be a duller and darker place if everyone thought as you did, and if all our thoughts were safe ones, and if there were nothing to bestir our minds, and inflame our senses, and rouse our consciences, and churn the warm but too-placid waters in which we swim at our own peril.
Safe spaces, physical and intellectual, are for children. You are grown-ups now. If your diplomas mean anything, it’s that it is time you leave those spaces behind forever.
Now, that’s some good advice.