Without a doubt, the best commencement speaker this year is Pitzer's choice of Mayor Cory Booker. Well done, Pitzer! Well done, indeed!
I'll get to how much I respect Pitzer for bringing Booker in a moment, but something must be said. Seriously, Claremont McKenna! Why, oh why, are you bringing back Surin Pitsuwan CMC '72? I like the guy, but that speech when he was last year's commencement speech was really horrendous! And why did you pick the same guy two years in a row when he was such a lousy speaker. Does this mean that Mr. Pitsuwan will be the speaker for my graduation, too? If so, I may skip out.
In any event, onto Mr. Booker. If you haven't heard yet, Mr. Booker is a member of the Democratic party that was once called a "wolf in sheep's clothing" by none other than this year's Claremont McKenna speaker, Jesse Jackson Sr. -- this namecalling despite Mr. Booker having worked for Mr. Jacksor's 1988 presidential campaign.
So why is Mr. Booker under attack from the left? Because he's not beholden to the public sector unions that make being a lefty so hard. Exhibit A I take from a selection of a speech he gave at the 2008 Democratic National Convention as reported by City Journal.
Particularly outspoken was Newark’s Cory Booker, who noted how “vicious” teachers’ unions can be in their efforts to stymie reform: “Ten years ago, when I started talking about school choice, I was tarred and feathered,” Booker noted. “I literally was brought into a room by a [teachers’] union [representative] . . . and threatened that I would never win in office if I kept talking about school choice, if I kept talking about charter schools . . . there are billboards all over my city paid for by the teachers’ unions attacking me and I don’t even have mayoral control yet. I just tell the truth about what’s going on.” Booker implored Democratic office holders to “have the political will to stand up against these phenomenally powerful interests” and suggested that “when I started talking about this, I had so many Democratic establishment folks turn their backs on me, and it was Republicans in America that were willing to donate to my campaign in Newark, New Jersey. So we have to understand as Democrats that we have been wrong on education; it’s time to get right.”And from another City Journal article, there's a full profile, with this interesting paragraph:
A Democrat, Booker nevertheless remained an outsider, often outvoted eight to one by the Newark Democratic political establishment. So he began staging media events—dismissed as “stunts” by Mayor James—to draw attention to local ills, including camping out on street corners to spotlight the drug trade that openly flourished in the city. Booker also crossed party lines to seek solutions to Newark’s problems. With South Jersey Republican businessman Peter Denton, he cofounded the education-reform group E3, which advocated bringing more schooling alternatives—from charter schools to vouchers—to struggling inner-city kids. “When I first met Cory, school choice was still very controversial in Newark,” says Denton. “In black communities, it was understood as something that white Republicans supported. But Cory understood its importance right away and was willing to advocate for it.” Booker was appalled to see many of Newark’s political leaders—“the connected, the elected, the elite,” he calls them—sending their kids to private schools but condemning poor children to remain in the terrible public schools.Now that's some hope and change even I could get behind.