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I was a UMass grad student, slogging along trying to finish my dissertation, from the Fall of 1996 until last Friday. Since most Kossacks have been so supportive about the whole Andrew Card fiasco, now that I am back home I wanted to share my eyewitness account of the protest at graduation.

When I heard about the honorary degree being given to Card, it really felt like someone punched me in the gut. Eleven years is a long time to work on a degree, even in my program, which on average has a 25% completion rate and people moving through at slug-like rates. I started off really well—first to defend comps, first to defend dissertation prospectus—and then 7 years ago got sucked into family caregiving issues that don’t belong in this diary; suffice it to say that my brother is dead and my mother has dementia.

Anyway, I got my life back in order and I defended my dissertation in April, and I was excited about graduation, but it wasn’t going to be the graduation I had visualized when I started the program, with my mother and brother there to be proud of me. I don’t want to overstate this—I am married to the most wonderful person on the planet (try to convince me otherwise) and I really love his parents, despite their extreme Republicanism, which again is a subject for another diary. (They love me despite my "extreme left-wing views." Family dinners are a treat.) And they were all there. And I had a few friends who are still in the area, and 3 more who drove in, and while my aunts and uncles in CA and FL couldn’t make it, I saw them a few weeks ago when they came to VA to see my mom (their sister) and we celebrated then. So I don’t want to overstate the case, I had plenty of people to hug when it was over, but still, in the lull between the defense and the graduation, when I was pretty sad thinking about how my mom and my brother wouldn’t be there, that’s when I heard about Card, and this probably explains my incredibly strong initial reaction— it really was like someone came up and sucker punched me.

I live my life surrounded by conservatives, as do many Kossacks in red states. I can deal with conservatives. My father-in-law thinks that minimum wage should be abolished, my mother-in-law thinks that if atheists are offended by the mention of God in the pledge, they should go open their own schools, my Florida uncle has a choose life license plate, and when I was fourteen I personally was slogging around our neighborhood hanging up Reagan signs for my mom, the precinct captain. When I was 18 I ran out and voted for him. Shortly after that it occurred to me that while the Republican ideology sounds quite nice, the Republican party doesn’t live up to it, and even if they did, that whole "bootstrap" thing doesn’t work they way it’s supposed to, and I have been tacking more and more to the left ever since. My point is, I am used to hearing conservatives speak all sorts of nonsense and letting it slide right over me. But Andrew Card is no ordinary conservative. He helped sell the Iraq war to the American public by repeatedly lying to the public, and he has tried to subvert the Constitution with the whole wiretapping incident, and that is just beyond the pale. And this is the guy getting honored at our graduation.

At UMass, there are 2 graduations, one on Friday for the grad students, and one on Saturday for the undergrads. It’s a big school. There are 5 (or maybe 6 by now) unions on campus and the place is known for left-leaning politics, except in the upper reaches of the administration, which is fairly reactionary and always trying to weaken the unions. The grads are unionized, as are the faculty. There’s a Labor Center. Protests are not uncommon—rallies, teach-ins, even grade-ins. My first year on campus, students (mostly minority undergrads) took over a building and stayed in it for weeks. After I moved back to VA, a bunch of my friends got arrested in another protest. As campuses go, it is fairly political and left-wing, especially the grad students.

Quite a few graduate students were angry about this, and many faculty were livid. As faculty, they have a vested interest in who is granted a degree by their institution. Normally they would have a voice in this. Despite all the faculty protests, the Trustees would not reconsider their decision.

I was gratified, when I first got word about the whole mess and went to sign the petition, to see that professors from my department were among the first to sign. In droves. And when I got to the Mullins Center on Friday to graduate, the first professor I saw was from my department. He’s the one who gave us the leaflets that said "Honor Grads/ Dis-Card" and noisemakers to wave when Card got his degree. A few minutes later I ran into my former GPD who gave me a stack of stickers (I suppose you can see them in the Youtube video—the ones we were wearing with the circle/slash through Card’s name, I’m at hone with a dial-up connection and haven’t seen the vid yet) and then I ran into students who were passing out smaller leaflets that said something like "Honoring Card dishonors my degree"—I forget the exact wording—for us to take on stage; we were supposed to hand them to someone on stage when we got our degrees.
I got in line with a bunch of people who were all stickered up and holding noisemakers. Has anyone mentioned how hot it was? It was in the 90’s, which is very unusual for May in MA, and all of us in those robes, ack. Anyway, we formed lines outside and melted for a bit while the Master’s students processed in, and then the doctoral students got to process, and then the faculty came in. Many of the students were looking around for their family and friends; I finally found my peeps in the crowd, waving frantically at me, and I got all teary for a minute. Anyway, the procession ended and the national anthem was sung, and then Mullin, the graduate dean, made opening remarks, in which the impending protests were briefly addressed. The Chancellor, Lombardi, made remarks and was cheered. The President, Wilson, was booed when he was introduced and someone in the back shouted something over his remarks—this was the only time the protest touched anyone besides Card.
Then we got to the presentation of honorary degrees. The first honorary doctorate went to Tisato Kajiyama, who was (I will quote from my program) "the first doctoral graduate from UMass Amherst’s Department of Polymer Science and Engineering" and who "is generally credited with having initiated and developed the polymer surface and interfacial phenomena" and who now is "president of Kyushu University." The Provost got up and made remarks and I think someone else got up and actually made more remarks and handed him the degree, which he accepted without speaking.
Then the Provost opened her mouth to present whoever was presenting the award to Card, and that was it. All the leaflets and banners got held up, and all the noisemakers came out (those old-timey metal ones that you swirl around were the most common) and I honestly couldn’t hear a word over the din. At one point one syllable blubbed through the noise, and everyone in my section redoubled their efforts to make sure it didn’t happen a second time. My husband and friends say they didn’t hear as much as a syllable of the award presentation. From where I sat, I could see many people participating, and fewer just sitting there. My husband saw 2 people holding signs in support of Card, but that’s the only pro-Card sentiment I heard of from anyone. There were so many banners and leaflets being held up by the faculty, right behind Card on the stage. So many in the student section. And a respectable part of the audience seemed to chime in. The instant it was over and Card sat back down, everything got quiet again.

When degrees were conferred, a bunch of students brought their protests cards up on stage—not as many as had participated in the booing and noisemaking, but a nice number. Some handed their cards to the President or Chancellor as they went down the row shaking hands (that’s what I did) and a few held their signs up and walked across the stage straight past the hand-shaking gauntlet. More Master’s recipients than Doctoral recipients carried signs up; that might be because it was hard to juggle the name card and protest card and keep the doctoral hood (!!!) folded exactly right. When I got up to the stage, one of my profs came over to hug me, and then I handed my name card to the guy calling names, and then I got hooded, and then handed my protest card to the Chancellor, and that was that.

I would rather have not had Card there, but the protest was gratifying. It was a good time after all. After dinner my parents-in-law took us out to dinner to celebrate, family, friends, and 3 of my profs—and we gave the one prof who had received an award and used the moment to protest a hard time about waving her protest sign upside down initially.

It was a little overshadowed by the graduation, but Friday was also my birthday. I am 41 now, and I am Dr Kathy in Virginia, and I feel pretty good.

Originally posted to kathy in virginia on Wed May 30, 2007 at 08:11 AM PDT.

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