Yesterday, envested in the black robes of a false priesthood, Richard Bruce Cheney received an honorary degree in public service from BYU and served as keynote speaker for the commencement exercises.
Predictably, he was welcomed enthusiastically by most of BYU (there was another protest and an "alternative commencement" but the organizers blew all their credibility when they included Ralph Nader). For me, the two most disappointing moments were 1) when the students applauded louder when Cheney's name was mentioned than when President Hinckley's name was mentioned seconds earlier, and 2) when the student giving the invocation thanked God for Cheney's presence and asked heaven's blessings first on Cheney and then only later did the same for President Hinckley. We thank the O God for a Vice President? Seems a little off to me. Maybe this student had Luke 6:28 in mind---perhaps the Vice President has not cursed the Mormons, but he sure did (despitefully?) use us for political gain.
I was wrong about one thing: I predicted that Cheney would use the commencement as a political forum. His speech was not overtly political. He mentioned politics only in passing. It was a short, relatively bland speech. There are a few possible explanations: 1) Cheney realizes that the administration is beyond recuperation and a political speech would have been in vain. 2) Cheney realizes that his audience is already in the bag and a political speech wouldn't accomplish anything that isn't already accomplished with Utahns. 3) The First Presidency, when they accepted Cheney's self-invitation to speak, explained the purpose of commencement and asked him to leave politics off campus. 4) Cheney himself realized that a political commencement speech was inappropriate. 5) Cheney knew that his purpose (to give the impression of church approval) was already accomplished by the fact that he got to be commencement speaker and he also knows that most people ignore commencement anyway so he didn't bother putting much effort into it.
The speech itself was not an awful speech. It was not a very good speech either. Very mediocre. One moment of perhaps unintentional honesty gave me a chuckle with Cheney saying "my entire political career has been an unplanned enterprise." Well, isn't that what we've been saying about the invasion of Iraq?
I know it's a tradition to give honorary degrees to speakers, but I was still disappointed that Cheney received a degree in public service. Especially since Pres. Samuelson kept emphasizing that this is the highest honor that BYU can give, and that it is only given to people who have demonstrated outstanding service in some way. Being VP is an accomplishment, but accomplishment and service are not the same thing; it is debatable at best that Cheney has done any public service. Pres. Samuelson didn't even give any examples of his alleged service, he just gave a run-down of his political career. Somehow, I feel, viscerally, even though I know that it is logically absurd, that my own degree is somehow sullied or cheapened. I'm just glad I graduated last year. It smarts, but it will fade.
You can still watch commencement here.