By some of the responses to first lady Michelle Obama's scheduled May commencement visit to the University of Northern Iowa, you would think we live in a politically-polarized era.
"It made me really upset," said Julie Wheeler, a graduating senior in communication and electronic media. "She was forced upon us ... because one person's mom wrote a letter."
Those on campus in 1987, however, should be able to recall a controversy that elicited far more intense responses, to date, than those concerning the first lady's visit. That was when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was invited to be the commencement speaker at UNI.
The invitation led to a lot of anger on campus, and many articles and opinions in The Northern Iowan, UNI's student newspaper. You would have thought the campus administration was rolling out the red carpet for Manuel Noriega.
Negative comments abounded. Larry K. Orr, a graduate student at the time, provided the following example in a letter to the NI:
"If Bush accepts, and if he isn't in jail at the time, I urge all students to consider two courses of action: either stoop to the university's level by engaging in a mass mooning of Bush, or create an alternative ceremony with a student speaker and a guest speaker who better represents the humane values upon which we consider our education to be founded."
In the end, Bush declined the invitation, citing another commencement address at St. Louis University on the same date.
We couldn't have blamed him if the published comments figured into his decision.
A UNI student in 1987, I was just three years past a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, and held respect for the offices held by individuals duly elected by voters in a free society. The bickering, name-calling and political grandstanding sickened me.
I'd like to quote from a 1987 piece from then-Northern Iowan columnist Terry Hudson: "George Bush is the vice president of the United States. This position demands respect, and I personally feel that anyone holding that position, no matter who, should be welcomed at UNI.
"No one has to agree with all of the decisions made by an administration, but the second highest position in our country should be an honored one. I, for one, would like to have the vice president speak at our university."
I feel the same way today - that the offices of the president and vice president should be respected, even if one does not agree with policies of those holding the offices. That extends to the first lady.
I hope she fares better than George H.W.
I think she will. One major focus for the first lady is education - a field that a good portion of UNI graduates will be entering.
I always loved the fact that attending an Iowa university put you in a great position to hear presidential candidates - lured by the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses - speaking on our campuses. So it baffled me that so many people would exhibit the type of immaturity required to undermine what others saw as an opportunity to hear one of our nation's leaders on a publicly-funded campus.
There were some controversies back in 1987, namely the Iran-Contra situation. The Obamas are embroiled in a few today. Either way, we should be supportive of an opportunity to hear from our leaders, or in this case, the spouse of our commander in chief.