When 20,000 convened for the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement on Monday, President Donald Trump (class of 1968) went unmentioned, The Atlantic reported Tuesday.
Trump was also ignored at last year’s commencement. And the year before.
“Penn’s officials have been mostly silent about Trump, perhaps because he is not necessarily beloved on campus,” The Atlantic reported. “When I reached out to Penn, the school declined to discuss Trump.”
“We just don’t comment on individual politicians,” Penn’s vice president of university communications, Stephen MacCarthy, wrote in an email. “We are non-partisan, and try to limit any comments in the political sphere to specific issues that have an impact on the University.”
This is apparently a new policy, as Republican President Gerald Ford and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden both delivered commencement addresses at Penn while in office. So too did Republican First Lady Barbara Bush and Democratic First Lady Hillary Clinton.
“Penn’s silence on its most powerful alumnus stands in contrast with how other universities have related to their own presidential (or near-presidential) graduates,” The Atlantic noted. “That it is Penn and not any other Ivy League school now navigating this terrain is additionally awkward—for Penn, perhaps more than its peers, has long had status anxiety.”
Penn is also unique in that the school’s president, Amy Gutmann, is a scholar of democratic discourse.
“One of the things that does make Penn unique is that its president is a political philosopher, and a giant in her field,” explained Penn Prof. Jonathan Zimmerman. “Most of her work has been about the question of deliberation and discourse in democracy.”
The shunning of the commander-in-chief may be temporary, or it may continue, noted the director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, Barbara Perry observed.
“What will [Penn] do?” she asked. “Will they not want to claim him because of all these personal and professional foibles of his?”
Instead of inviting President Trump to give the commencement address, the school instead invited NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell (class of 1967).
Mitchell, who hosts “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC, did not mention Trump by name, but alluded to the Trump Era during her speech.
Today, we are living through a period that feels equally challenging, and disorienting,” Mitchell said. “But now, the challenges are subtler, even more complex—the social dilemmas affecting race, ethnicity, gender. Problems that new laws can address, but not always fix.”
“But in today’s politics, facts are described as ‘alternative,’ and truths are often relative,” Mitchell noted. “So, my next lesson: Be open-minded. Never stop learning.”
Watch Mitchell’s commencement speech: