Choate Bounces Karl Rove

Karl Rove, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff, will not speak at Choate Rosemary Hall’s 2008 commencement exercises as scheduled, announced headmaster Ed Shanahan on Monday. Shanahan will give the address in Rove’s place. After a January 15 all-school email announced the controversial Republican strategist as the speaker, disquieted students voiced their opinions. Some devised plans to walk away from their own graduation or turn their chairs away from Rove during his speech. After the public outcry, Headmaster Shanahan called a meeting with his senior class to discuss the fate of their commencement speaker. Shanahan’s meeting with the Senior Class provided a forum for these varying opinions to be voiced. “Basically, it was an open forum that evolved into an open debate on the floor,” Choate senior Alex Manti, who opposed Rove’s Commencement visit, said. Manti said that in the meeting, there was a group of thirty to forty students supporting the decision to have Rove speak at the commencement exercises sitting in a clump, physically separated from the rest of the 230 members of the Class of ’08. Following the meeting, Shanahan sent a press release in which he detailed revised plans to have Rove speak at Choate on February 11 instead of Commencement. Shanahan explained that after much thought and a conversation with Rove, it seemed best for Rove not to speak at the commencement exercises due to “risk that their graduation day might be disrupted by outsiders.” Rove, as quoted in Shanahan’s email, said, “I would not want 12 minutes of remarks to be used as an excuse by a small group to mar what should be a wonderful day of celebration for the members of the 2008 graduating class and their families, so I am delighted to instead accept Choate’s invitation to speak on campus February 11.” Although Shanahan wrote in the email that 80 percent of his communications regarding the new plan “expressed positive support,” this was hardly the case in a week ago. Manti said, “I am one hundred percent, unabashedly shockingly, passionately against him being here [for the commencement exercises]. We have posted up in every single one of our dorms, our school’s statement of character, every person should have integrity, compassion, and a sense of responsibility, as far as I was concerned Karl Rove has none of those.” Christophe Lirola, another Choate senior, disagrees. “Given the large amount of influence Karl Rove has had on in recent political history, he has obviously been one of the main players in our society… I think most schools would be honored to have a former [Deputy Chief of Staff] speak at their graduation,” Lirola said. Lirola concluded, “I don’t agree with his politics, but I would love for him to speak at graduation.” Manti said that he took into account Rove’s public reputation and recent resignation from his White House post in deciding that the Republican advisor would not be an acceptable speaker for the 118th Commencement. However, Manti said, “I would have liked for him to come another time.” Choate’s student newspaper, The News, sided against the decision to bring Rove to campus for commencement in a recent editorial entitled, “Rove in ’08: We think not.” The editorial expressed views similar to Manti’s, citing a contradiction between the messages of a commencement speech by Shanahan two years ago expressing the necessity of upholding “moral, ethical and legal laws” and the message that the editorial board believes Choate would be sending if Rove were allowed to speak. Shanahan, though, fought for equal time, by penning an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s most widely-read newspaper. In the piece, “Rove Deserves To Be Heard,” Shanahan explained his perspective on the situation emphasizing his desire to expose students to the various view points of the word, maintaining that “Choate has been no stranger to heated debate” and should be open for an exchange of ideas. Dick Cheney spoke at Choate’s Commencement in 1995. Many faculty members were also opposed to Rove’s visit, although The New York Times also reported that 86 percent of Choate faculty voted for John Kerry in the last presidential election, indicating overwhelming Democratic support.