If, as the national media has reported, some Liberty University students absent themselves from their graduation ceremony tomorrow morning in protest of the school's choice of a Mormon commencement speaker, their absence isn't likely to be noticed. The university will confer degrees on 14,012 residential and online students, with about 6,000 graduates in attendance among a crowd expected to swell to over 34,000. Security protocols surrounding the address by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney require students and faculty to show up hours ahead of time in order to be screened by metal detectors before passing into the area where ceremony's procession will begin. Fewer bodies might, in fact, be welcomed by those (full disclosure), like me, who will be attending.
Every year at Liberty University at least some students, as do students at commencement ceremonies everywhere, express disagreement with the school's choice of speaker, but never has their discontentment been so amplified by both national media coverage and the power of social networking. However, while the reach of both traditional and social media may be wide, it isn't deep, nor is its memory long. It was only three years ago, when most of the current graduates were sophomores and not likely paying attention, that Glenn Beck, who is Mormon, delivered the commencement address amidst a few largely unheard grumblings.
Touting itself as "the world's largest evangelical university," the conservative institution has a history of hospitality to speakers from outside the not-so-big evangelical tent, including Democrats such as the late Ted Kennedy and former Virginia Governor and Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine. Joining Romney among the ranks of non-evangelical ...1