About a week ago I attended a graduation convocation ceremony at the Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in Ames Iowa. Within this event there were about 15 department and interdepartmental programs representing various majors from “Agricultural Systems Technology” to “Agronomy” to Environmental Science” to “Genetics” to “Animal Ecology” and beyond.
The majority of the time was spent listening to a faculty member recite the names of the graduates and a short statement of each individual’s plans for the future as each graduate present (many were not) crossed the stage to shake the hand of a departmental representative.
Most of the time when a student’s name and future plans were announced there was mainly silence and generally when members of the audience did react it was in the form of small shouts, cheers, whistles from varied points within the massive, brutalist, concrete Hilton “Coliseum.”
Most of the graduates names were followed by an announcement of where they had secured a job. Some had statements of ideological hopes for their dream job. Some had statements about continuing to farm. Some caused chuckles when they expressed an idealism beyond mere employment. Some expressed a desire to, as one graduate put it, “Make the world a better place.” Several stated that they were going into the Peace Corps. One graduate wanted to work for MSF. The majority of responses from the members of the audience was muted and patient.
There were, however, three occasions which were distinctly different and it seemed as if this convocation transformed into a loud swelling of religious fervor throughout the audience. The first two expressions of widespread enthusiasm were in response to two different graduates from different degree programs and there was no stated request from anyone for what was, to me, an unexpectedly loud wave of celebratory shouts and applause. The difference was that these two students were wearing military uniforms and both of their futures involved more involvement in the military. The third (and louder) expression of the fervor of the audience was at the end of the program and it was in response to the instruction of the Dean of the College for anyone who was in military service to please stand up. In sum, these two graduates, out of at least a thousand graduates present, both received two overwhelming loud endorsements from the audience.
These loud celebrations for the militarism for these two graduates left me feeling somewhat isolated, downtrodden, and questioning what kind of supposed democracy was I engulfed within. I was initially somewhat dismayed by the obvious corporatism connected to and driving the majority of future jobs for these graduates, but the reaction of the crowd in their earnest, celebratory lifting of militarism above all of the other plans and dreams spiked my sense of hopelessness at what I had previously supposed was going to be an unprejudiced celebration of diverse futures.
It was not the two graduating military students who left me feeling so greatly dismayed. Their choice or desire to use the military was clearly a minority among the graduates and I have no knowledge of what motivated the military graduates.
It was, for me at least, the very striking fact that, in the midst of an already very strongly pronounced agricultural corporatism, that the audience – which was clearly comfortable with that corporatism – would rise, un-prodded, out of their patient confidence and enthusiastically endorse militarism even above their agricultural corporatism. Then, the fact that the Dean of a College of “Agriculture and Life Sciences” would lead the audience to another, more focused celebration of the militarism of two students over all of the other graduates’ intentions was, for me, pathetic and shameful.
It is highly likely that Iowa State University is not alone in producing such a program for its graduates and their families. I do not want to ponder how many events similar to this may be occurring at this time of the year – every year.
As I reflected on this experience, I remembered the history of one of ISU’s most celebrated graduates. Henry A. Wallace. After years of trying to improve the plight of humanity through agricultural innovations and economic policies which helped counter the gross abusiveness of Wall Street’s lies and plunder and after serving as Secretary of Agriculture, as Vice President, and as Secretary of Commerce, Wallace, under the rabid efforts of Truman era bipartisan devotees of Cold War military expansion of hostilities, was gradually pushed out of the government when he tried to argue for less militarism and for equal justice for all people.
Apparently, that same repudiation of reflective diplomacy and the enthusiasm for unquestioned militarism which ran roughshod over Henry A. Wallace about 70 years ago is now as compulsive at a University level as was the behavior of Pavlov’s dog.
The so-called “heartland” is bleeding and it is, again, ready to take more blood.