I didn’t attend my own college graduation ceremony. I didn’t see the point in gathering in a football stadium out under the blazing sun and not even getting to cross a stage or hear my name read. But as a staff member at a University, attending graduation ceremonies is part of the job. Yesterday I attended the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Commencement Ceremony. I was prepared to be miserable as I sat outside in the 95 °F heat and braced myself to watch a bunch of people I’d never seen before take ages to march themselves across the stage. I had no idea what a treat I was in for.
Dr. Alive Rivlin
The Commencement Speaker was Dr. Alice Rivlin, a Faculty member at the McCourt School, so her selection as Commencement Speaker felt underwhelming. We are spoiled at Georgetown by the caliber of people who walk through the gates of campus every day. But as Dr. Rivlin was introduced yesterday, I was reminded of her incredible accomplishments. She has her PhD in economics from Harvard University (a degree that she got only after she was rejected from Masters in Public Administration programs because she was a ‘woman of marriageable age’). After graduating Harvard, she went on to work in multiple Presidential administrations. She was the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office. She is a former director of the Office of Management and Budget, and a former vice-chair of the Federal Reserve. In sum, Alice Rivlin is kind of a superhero.
Compromise and Civil Discourse
When Dr. Rivlin took to the stage last night, she focused her speech on the necessity of compromise and civil discourse.
— Hanna Hope (@hopefulhanna) May 18, 2017
I can’t begin to do her word’s justice, so I have them here for you to watch for yourself. She starts speaking at the 40 minute mark and goes for less than 15 minutes. I highly encourage you to watch her entire speech.
I think we can agree that commencement speakers are faced with a tough job this year. It’s hard to know what to say to students who are graduating and entering the world at such a turbulent time. The advice that Dr. Rivlin gave to graduating students was so spot on. While it may have seemed a little ‘Kumbaya’ to those focused on success and looking for practical advice, I think this is the best advice she could have given.
— Hanna Hope (@hopefulhanna) May 18, 2017
I was so inspired by Dr. Rivlin’s words. Every day I spend less and less time around people I disagree with. I believe it’s making me a stupider person, a worse Democrat and a less effective Public Servant. I believe that the things Dr. Rivlin was talking about – compromise, civil discourse – are the key to a more productive government, a more compassionate country.
Coming Back Down to Earth
I left Commencement energized and excited, moved and inspired. When I went home I texted a friend to tell him all about Dr. Rivlin’s speech, assuming he’d be just as inspired as I was. What he wrote back stunned me.
Compromise is not a virtue and should not be applauded for its own sake. You are not obligated to compromise with people that are wrong.
Whoo boy. When I read that, steam started coming out of my ears. The inherent assumption here is that our team, the Democrats, are right, and the other team, the Republicans, are wrong. I do not buy into that. I am a progressive and I believe that for the most part, Democratic policies are better for our country and our citizens. However, I have too many smart, principled, caring Republican friends to think that they and their party are wrong about everything. I simply can’t think there isn’t something to be gained from working with them as much as possible, from talking to them as much as possible.
When is it not an election year?
Earlier this week I had dinner with some friends who work on the Hill. They were discussing a Democratic Senator who they really liked, but who they felt was too friendly towards Republicans. As you can imagine, I had some thoughts on that. They said that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (also known around these parts as the DS), really discourages working across the aisle too much while ‘in cycle’. What this means is that playing nicely doesn’t play well in an election year. But to quote The West Wing, “When is it not an election year?”
I used to think that the Lord was calling me to to go out and work to elect Democrats, to bolster our numbers in the House, Senate and Supreme Court, to make sure Democrats sat in the White House. Now I’m sensing the beginnings of another calling. Compromise, civil discourse, understanding. I don’t know where to start, but I’m fueled by a lot of stubborn energy and a desire to prove all those wrong who say “compromise is not a virtue”.
Although it’s rare, there are some people who are effecting change through compromise. In March Democratic Congressmen Will Hurd and Republican Congressman Beto O’Rourke, both of Texas, road tripped to DC after their flight was canceled. Along the way they discussed politics and policy, live streaming the whole trip on Facebook, to show their colleagues and constituents the value of spending time with someone who has different beliefs than you. O’Rourke said, “if we both just go to our corners and refuse to engage … then nothing is going to change. Everyone is better served if we can find some common ground.”
As I said a prayer for clarity and understanding last night, I was reminded of one of my favorite bible passages, Esther 4:14. “Perhaps this is the moment for which you’ve been created.” Maybe it’s stupid to believe in concepts as simple as civil discourse, or compromise which we’ve been hearing about since kindergarten. Maybe it’s oversimplifying a lot of really complicated problems that our country faces right now. But maybe, just maybe, this is the moment for which we have been created.
What’s your take? Is compromise a virtue or a crock? Am I on to something, or just being Pollyanna?