Goin' Nova: "Big Bird flies high at 'Nova graduation," the Delaware County Times headline trumpeted. "Thirty years from now, Villanova University's Class of 2004 might not remember who its commencement speaker was. Graduates will, however, remember that Oscar the Grouch made a cameo appearance. That, and several other quips from 'Sesame Street' performer Carroll Spinney, brought loud laughter and cheers from the graduates and guests at Villanova Stadium Sunday morning. Spinney, the voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and one of two remaining original performers from the long-running public television show, was warmly received, with the controversy that swirled last month around his selection as the university's commencement speaker seemingly forgotten."
"Villanova University President Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A., drew a laugh when he reminded the crowd of the importance of Sesame Street. "This ceremony has been brought to you by the letters 'V' and 'U' and the number 2004," he said."
First some disclaimers/disclosures:
1. I wasn't there; I didn't hear the speech.
2. I am a Villanova graduate.
3. Even as a student, I wasn't much of a booster and thought it was a mediocre school. (In all fairness, I don't think Villanova thought much of me either).
4. I've never been back since I graduated. Not interested. (I feel much differently about my high school - St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia - and have attended every reunion since I graduated.)
5. The day I read this article was the same day that a Villanova survey form came in the mail, requesting updated information. It even had my degree wrong. I tossed the thing in the trash.
About ten years ago, I received a catalog from Villanova offering imprinted merchandise. I noticed that the school had apparently gone hip-hop selling dreck emblazoned with "'Nova" logos. Now to me, a Nova is a cheap Chevy - a staple in car rental fleets 30+ years ago. (Although it was fun when one rented the occasional V-8-powered Nova which could be tossed around amusingly through the twisties. Or one could slide the sucker sideways in the rain when one floored the gas pedal.)
These days, apparently, people are not "driving their Cadillac Escalades to Villanova University." They are ... "Yo. Yo. Be drivin' my 'Slade to 'Nova." MTV rules, baby. Frankly, I'm appalled.
If your school is located in Iowa or Idaho, getting notable speakers is tough. Famous People don't want to travel long distances. Especially to places lacking in 'name' restaurants or a Four Seasons hotel. But Villanova is along the Northeast Corridor running from Boston to D.C. (served by I-95, air shuttles and Amtrack's Acela high-speed train). A Three Hour Tour, so to speak. The University could have easily gotten a distinguished jurist, politician or notable commentator or other Important Person: Clarence Thomas, Donald Rumsfeld or Chris Matthews - as a speaker. Instead, they chose Big Bird. (Although one could argue that Chris Matthews is also Big Bird.)
Sadly ... an institution, founded in 1841 with a long, honorable history, opts for a fictional children's character to send off their graduates into the real world. But it makes for a tough act to follow. Who will they invite next year? Itchy & Scratchy from The Simpsons? (posted 5/19/04)
Dubious Honor: A professor who murdered her six-month-old baby is to be honored at Villanova University. (She was also director of the Center for Arab American Studies at Villanova.) A memorial student lounge will be dedicated in her name in early 2005.
What's next - the Jeffrey Dahmer Memorial Dining Hall?! (posted 1/21/05)
Circle Of Money: The Winter 2008 edition of Villanova magazine arrived in my mailbox a few days before Spring. This publication targets "the University's alumni, family and friends." (You can download the entire issue in pdf format [8.3 MB] here.)
One of the feature articles was a report on the Villanova University Theology Institute's 2007 Annual Conference. The theme was 'God and Mammon'. One of the keynote speakers was a young, dreadlocked white fellow, Shane Claiborne. He is a founding member of a lay Christian commune, The Simple Way, located in a run-down poverty-stricken area of Philadelphia. (For those of you who know the city, it's a few blocks from Kensington & Allegheny Avenues. K&A was a rough area even way back in my youth.) Claiborne is a social activist, and author of 'The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical'.
Claiborne characterized contemporary American society as Mammon worshipers whose narrow focus on acquisition and consumption has left it morally bankrupt. "We've created a culture that's robbed us of what we were made to be," he told attendees. "We have to live proximity to the suffering and poor."
Another speaker, Jim Wallis - author of the book, 'God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It', told the audience that there are nine million working poor in the U.S. "Half of God's children on this planet are living on less than $2 a day. The critical mass will come when there is a critical mass of poor people," he said.
I'm sure that both of these gentlemen are sincere, although I disagree with much of what they espouse. I would point out that free markets and capitalism has probably done more to ease poverty than charitable works and simple living. A rising tide really does lift all boats. I would also argue that 'poverty' is an ill-defined and constantly-shifting term.**
Furthermore, I would suggest that, even in the Middle Ages, a typical monastic community had a serious commercial component - raising cattle, selling wool, grinding grain, etc. These money-making activities kept the monastery self-sufficient, provided funds for growth and allowed the monks to trade with locals and become a dynamic part of the community.
I don't believe that life is either 100% God or 100% Mammon. Jesus understood commerce. He just didn't worship it. Nor do most Americans. But they do desire to better their lives. And the lives of their children. I don't believe that every time someone buys a Mocha Grande at Starbucks, a poor Somalian child perishes.
That said, I found it weirdly ironic that, turning to the next page of Villanova magazine, my eyes fell on this:
It's a two-page spread from the 2007 Final Campaign Gala, showing well-fed, tuxedoed and ball gown-clad people celebrating the successful conclusion of Villanova's $300 million fundraising campaign. For the poor? Ummmmm ... no.
The money will be used to "support the University's strategic priorities and help it reach new levels of achievement and academic distinction." There were more pages and more pages of Gala photos including an eight-page piece titled 'Faces of the Campaign' with photos of major contributors. Like the Davis family, who gave $10 million to The Davis Center for Athletics and Fitness.
Aha! It seems that, without this money, there would - perhaps - be no Theology Institute and no place for Messrs. Claiborne and Wallis to give speeches, collect speaker's fees and take that money and put it to the responsible use of their choosing.
Circle of Life. Circle of Money. (posted 3/26/08)
Ummmm, doesn't Villanova have drinking fountains sprinkled throughout the campus as it did when I was there? And, if one must carry water on one's person, shouldn't such a student be encouraged to buy a bottle once and refill it as needed with tap water?
Or use a thermos? Or a canteen? (posted 7/15/08)
CINO Alert: Villanova University's 2011 commencement speaker was U.S. Senator Bob Casey, who "voted against the 'Mexico City Policy', thereby allowing the U.S. government to pay for abortions overseas, and against the de-fund Planned Parenthood amendment to the 2011 budget."
Another CINO: Catholic In Name Only.
Villanova is not the only one ... (more >>>)