Skip to main content
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The Big Q Blog

Protest at a graduation

Protest at a graduation

Protesting Commencement?

After nearly four years of college, Ryan is finally graduating. As he goes online to figure out his responsibilities for the big day, he notices that his school has already chosen the commencement speaker: the CEO of a burgeoning business in the area. Not overly familiar with the woman, Ryan researches her and the company on the web.

Quickly, Ryan learns that although the successful business has donated lots of money to the surrounding community, it has been tied up in a number of lawsuits over the improper disposal of its wastes. Looking into the matter further, Ryan discovers that this particular CEO has even made changes in the company that directly resulted in less environmentally sustainable practices.

Ryan has been a member of Students for a Greener Earth since he was a freshman, and the college itself made a weighty pledge within the last year to improve its environmental sustainability. Unable to change the speaker but nonetheless outraged that she has been selected, Ryan intends to protest. 

One option is to pass out leaflets before or after the ceremony detailing her actions in light of the school's pledge; however, another possibility is to do something when she's on stage. While she speaks, he could stand and turn his back to her; he could rally his friends to chant a message against her; he could even gather a group of people to shout so loudly so she can't finish her speech. 

What do you believe he should do?


Framework for Ethical Decision Making 

Remarks by John J. Digioia, president of Georgetown University

Controversial Commencement Speaker Hall of Fame (Washington Post)


Photo by ragesoss available under a Creative Commons license.