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Letter to the editor: Commencement is not the place for protest

Sen. Rob Portman speaks before the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 8. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

I have heard a lot recently about disappointment with having Sen. Rob Portman as the Autumn Commencement speaker on Sunday. It’s fine to be disappointed that he’s the keynote speaker, but I have also seen people discuss protesting his speech at commencement. This, in my opinion, is not OK. Protest is a sacred right guaranteed by the Constitution, but just because you are allowed to do something does not mean you should do something.

Thousands of students have spent years (and tens of thousands of dollars) working toward this day and it is finally here. They do not deserve to have it disrupted due to a handful of students being unable to sit and listen for less than an hour to someone they disagree with giving a speech that is not even political.

Since 2013, Ohio State has had then-President Barack Obama, MSNBC political commentator Chris Matthews, and congresswoman Joyce Beatty speak at commencement. All three of these speakers are Democrats and all three are considered to be quite far to the left on the political spectrum. There were no organized student protests by the conservative students on campus. Instead, they just sat there and listened to people they disagree with. Had Ohio State gone in the opposite direction and invited Senator Sherrod Brown to speak, College Republicans and other conservative groups still would not have protested.

I understand what it’s like to listen to people you disagree with. I understand it challenges your beliefs and you might not like it. I respect the right to protest. Protest before, protest after, protest at his office, protest at any other speech he gives. But do not disrespect your fellow graduates and their families by protesting during the final thing we’ll ever experience as students at this great university.

If you protest Portman at commencement, you’re not going to change his mind and you’re not going to change his vote. All you are going to do is anger your fellow graduates and embarrass yourselves, your families and Ohio State. Let’s go out the right way, united as one Buckeye family.

Devin Bilski

Fifth-year in Marketing and Political Science



  1. “Since 2013, Ohio State has had then-President Barack Obama, MSNBC political commentator Chris Matthews, and congresswoman Joyce Beatty speak at commencement…all three are considered to be quite far to the left on the political spectrum.”

    By whom?

  2. How’d the whole Brooks Brothers campaign turn out for you Devin?

  3. I personally think we should never have politically charged speakers on either side. It should be about being a buckeye and contributing to society after graduation and pursuing your dreams. Not pushing political stances. However, I do agree and would never disrupt the commencement itself.

  4. We can’t protest commencement because you’ll be mad that it ruins graduation
    We can’t protest during the National Anthem because it’s disrespectful to the military
    We can’t protest in the streets because it’s inconvenient to drivers and will make them late
    We can’t protest on the sidewalks because it will block pedestrians
    We can’t protest in libraries because it will interrupt studying for five minutes
    We can’t protest in administration buildings because it will make the employees there afraid of you
    We can’t protest in parks because it’s bad for the grass
    So basically we can protest as long as no one can hear it. As long as the message is out there.

    I am an alum of Ohio State. A current Master’s student in Higher Education at University of Pennsylvania. I discuss this a lot with professors, administration, and other students.

    Protests aren’t going to be convenient, get over it.

  5. You don’t have to drown him out, but there ain’t nothing wrong with giving Rob Portman a little hiss.

  6. Not Your Average Snowflake

    Great post! We shouldn’t protest someone because we might have a disagreeing opinion. Protest to stand for those can not. Protest for causes that are notable. Protest for the oppressed. Don’t begin to give the word “protesting: a bad rap.

  7. Mr. Poopy Butthole

    Hahahaha Mr. Free Speech himself doesn’t support free speech he doesn’t like. Get out

  8. Although the intentions of Mr. Bilski’s article were pure, his letter comes off as controlling, condescending and somewhat supercilious. As someone who is an ardent supporter of the first amendment, this extends far beyond those whom I agree with. As Mr. Bilski pointed out, if they do protest, they’ll just embarrass themselves and their families. To that I say, let them. I think it’s important to point out that he is writing from a completely objective stand point given that he’s a registered republican.

  9. I am the parent of a Spring 2017 OSU graduate. Devin, you enjoy your graduation day. In the meantime, people who are disgusted by a political party that is ruling this country with a corrupt, neo-Nazi, homophobic, racist, misogynistic fist will stand by their principles and engage in peaceful protest.

    Calling out people who stand by their beliefs as “unable to sit and listen for less than an hour to someone they disagree with giving a speech that is not even political” is a grossly naïve and inaccurate statement. Mr. Portman is a representative of the Republican party and has received considerable funding from the Tea Party; he is not a member of the private sector who just happens to be Republican, like the Spring 2017 commencement speaker, Abigail Koppel Wexner. And, how do you know that if Sen. Brown was the speaker, conservative groups would not protest? Do you have access to an alternative universe in which this was the case? Regarding your implication that the protesters can’t bear dissenting opinions: do you honestly believe that they all agree with each other about everything? If so, that’s a prejudicial statement. Furthermore, back to your words “sit and listen.” This is an inflammatory and condescending statement. It implies that these protesters just need to shut up and stop acting out like children. I’m sure many of the protesters are, are friends with, have loved ones, or can relate to people who have been hurt by the Tea Party agenda.

    Have you actually spoken to any of your classmates to try to understand why they are willing to protest during their graduation—a day they have strived to attain and dreamed about for much of their lives? Maybe you should. They are standing with their beliefs, not yours. I would venture to say that the vast majority of them will stand by their decision decades from now. I stand with them.

    • Barbra you come off as nothing but a big bully. If you want to protest do it outside, show respect for the graduates that don’t want their graduation ceremony disrupted, after all it is their day to. Disrupting the ceremony is disrespectful to them and the University. They’ve worked for years for this moment, and you would allow your hate for Portman to take that away from them. Yep, nothing but a big bully.

      • A big bully? I’ve seen you comment across several of these publications, denouncing the protesters and calling them spoiled brats. Someone who disagrees with you is a big bully or a spoiled brat. Hmmmm….

  10. This is NOT the venue for protest, regardless of speaker. I didn’t like President Obama one bit. However, I would have sat and listened and gave his office, not him, its due respect. I would have been honored to have a sitting US President make remarks, even if I did not agree. Protesting makes a negative spectacle of yourself, group, and university and leaves a sour taste in the mouths of your fellow classmates and guests.

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