Quiet Protest Greets Vice President Cheney at BYU
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now even in places that President Bush carried easily in 2004 his administration now faces some opposition. That is true in and around Provo, Utah, where the president and Vice President Cheney gained 85 percent of the vote in 2004. The area is home to Brigham Young University. When the vice president went there for a commencement speech, he got a friendly reception, but only to a point.
NPR's Howard Berkes explains.
HOWARD BERKES: Vice President Dick Cheney picked two seemingly safe places for his two commencement speeches this year. The Military Academy at West Point and Brigham Young University. That's the Mormon-owned school in Provo, Utah, a place so Republican Democrats were outvoted 26 to one last fall.
Vice President DICK CHENEY: I congratulate you. I hope your future is filled with the kind of happiness you feel today. And again, I thank the university for this honorary degree. I leave here as a proud member of the Brigham Young class of 2007. Thank you very much.
(Soundbite of applause)
BERKES: The crowd of 20,000 stood and cheered. Six thousand of them wore graduation gowns just like Vice President Cheney. But earlier yesterday, just down the road, about 100 students protested quietly, including Joshua Everett, a graduate in Middle Eastern studies and Arabic, wearing his cap and gown.
Mr. JOSHUA EVERETT (Graduate, Brigham Young University): I don't feel as though Vice President Cheney really embodies the morals or the standards that BYU has set for their students. He is consistently embroiled in scandal. He's consistently caught up in, you know, dishonesty, leading people into a war that's unnecessary. He's consistently shown that he does not represent the morals of Brigham Young University. And as such, he should not be welcomed to speak at our commencement.
BERKES: These are strident words for sober and sedate Brigham Young, which hasn't had political protests for 15 years. But 4,000 people responded when students launched an online petition objecting to Mr. Cheney's appearances, and organizers of an alternative commencement ceremony raised $11,000 in four hours. Sophomore Carl Brinton(ph) is one of those organizers.
Mr. CARL BRINTON (Sophomore, Brigham Young University): It shows that even in the reddest county at the reddest school in the reddest state there are alternatives. There are alternative solutions. There are alternative ways of thinking. And they're acceptable.
BERKES: The alternative commencement speaker sees something else in the resistance to the vice president's appearance and the attention to it. Consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke at a news conference after Mr. Cheney's speech.
Mr. RALPH NADER (Former Presidential Candidate): The media thinks if BYU students are protesting, the situation has to be pretty bad. They're reflecting a sense of gravity that is far in advance of their elders at the university and around the country.
BERKES: But outside the basketball arena where the vice president spoke and where 20,000 cheered, some of the graduates posing for pictures with friends and family found reassurance in Mr. Cheney's appearance. David Harris(ph) and Jason Carson received master's degrees in business.
Mr. DAVID HARRIS (Graduate, Brigham Young University): It may be true that some of the things that maybe he has done or has represented aren't exactly in accordance with what BYU represents. But we are a university that welcomes people who are prominent and want to come and share what they have to us so that we can learn from them.
Mr. JASON CARSON (Graduate, Brigham Young University): Yeah. And if you think about what the values of the university are most built on, it's the gospel of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ was accepting of people. He may not have approved of everything people around him did, but he was loving to all people.
BERKES: Vice President Cheney said nothing in his Provo, Utah, speech that would test love or tolerance. He said nothing political. But maybe he drew from his own political experience when he told the graduates to persevere even when life takes unexpected turns.
Howard Berkes, NPR News.