Everything I Needed to Know I learned at a 5th Grade Graduation

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Jun 022009

This morning I went to a nephew’s 5th grade graduation ceremony over in St. Petersburg. They actually had a nice little ceremony, and a commencement speaker, Stephen Buckley, Publisher of the St. Petersburg Times. Mr. Buckley had graduated from Campbell Park Elementary School himself.graduation_hat_toss

I found it telling that his two main points were about responsibility: taking responsibility for yourself and your own actions; and being responsible in the friends we choose, especially as we move into Junior High.

It is true that the types of people we start to associate ourselves with during our Junior High years will tend to have a great deal of influence on how we turn out, and in the overall arc of our lives. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I was lucky and made pretty good choices for friends in Junior High and High School.

I’ve always tried to take responsibility for my life and my actions, and I think I have mostly done a good job of that. I remember about two years ago I’d worked on a huge public sector proposal which we had eventually won. I made what turned out to be  a valid assumption about pricing for the main product we were implementing, but the sales guy was trying to renege on the terms. It could have cost us close to a half-million dollars, and the deal would have not been profitable. When I first learned of the situation, I called my boss, explained it to him, and offered my resignation. Luckily, he said no, and when we put the vendor’s feet to the fire, they admitted they had been misleading.

I certainly haven’t been perfect, but I know I’ve tried. One of the things that frustrates me most is the current culture of NOT taking responsibility for one’s own life and actions. We’re overweight, and we blame Burger King; We’re burn ourselves with hot coffee after putting it between our legs and driving our car, and we blame McDonalds; I’m no fan of smoking, but if you elect to smoke, every time you pick up a pack, you’re warned it can cause death, but we sue the tobacco companies when we get sick and die; a Judge (of all people) in D.C. sues his dry cleaners for $54m for a lost pair of pants.

Most recently, the dire results from this kind of culture manifested themselves in the economic meltdown. Wall Street executives rewarded themselves with millions in bonuses, even as their businesses were failing to make money. Then, with no shame, they turn to the taxpayers to bail them out and keep the gravy train running. GM and Chrysler executives decided to build cars with planned obsolescence, and then move the manufacturing jobs overseas, so not only did no one in America want to buy their cars, but no one could afford to buy a car.

In government, politicians lie with impunity, and there is no longer any shame. They just change their story when caught, and move right along. Rep. Virginia Foxx said, on the floor of Congress in front of a grieving mother, that a young man beat to death for being gay was a hoax, and rather than apologize for the sentiment, merely dismissed it as a poor choice of words. Republican Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina said during a campaign rally in 2008 that liberals hate Americans that work hard and love God, and then lied about it, saying he’d never made the comment. (Cell phone video and YouTube to the rescue.)

The list goes on and on. Interestingly, during the last election the St. Petersburg Times set up politifact.com to track the lies of the candidates, and now they are maintaining it to hold the elected officials more accountable. Good for them.

I think that once we begin to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable for their actions, we’ll be much better off.

Apr 292009

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx represents the congressional district that includes my alma mater, and she has attended ASU events and activities to advance her political career and give her an undeserved credibility. Over the past several days, Rep. Foxx has made a number of inflammatory statements during the House’s consideration of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. Today, Rep. Foxx crossed a line when she took to the floor of the House, claimed that Shepard was killed as part of a robbery, and called the hate aspect of the crime “a hoax.”

Kenneth E. Peacock, Chancellor
Office of the Chancellor
Appalachian State University
ASU Box 32002
Boone, NC  28608

Subject: ASU’s association with U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx

Dear Chancellor Peacock:

I had the honor of meeting you some weeks ago at an alumni reception in St. Petersburg.

I was born, raised and lived most of my life in North Carolina. I am extremely proud of that upbringing, and am a very proud Mountaineer. The lessons I’ve taken from my upbringing and education have, I believe, served me well. I was incredibly impressed by your presentation and your enthusiasm for the University, and recognize the current budget pressures you must confront.

At the reception, I noted I’d been lucky enough to receive a small bonus from work, and promised to share that with the University’s program for the financially disadvantaged students. Perhaps, with the deepest regret I’ve ever felt in my life, I cannot continue my support of Appalachian State University. Even my pride in North Carolina is shaken, and I can no longer be proud of my home state.

Boone and the University are, as you know, in the Fifth Congressional District, and Virginia Foxx is the representative for that district. I have seen, on Rep. Foxx’s congressional website, a number of photographs with her appearing at ASU functions behind and beneath the ASU Banner.

Unfortunately today I saw a video of a statement made by Rep. Foxx on the floor of the United States House of Representatives opposing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. It was the vilest, most hate-filled, hateful, and un-Christian statement I believe I’ve ever heard come from a U.S. Representative. (And that is a pretty high bar.)

Obama_Shepherd.jpgTo advance her political career, Rep. Foxx claimed that Matthew Shepard was killed merely as part of a robbery. This is a lie, and Rep. Foxx is, or ought to be, aware of the record before making such a statement. The Laramie Police and Prosecutors said the two men lured Mr. Shepard from a bar by pretending to be gay, beat him to pulp, and left him hung, still alive, on a fence post for over 18 hours. The men attempted to use a “gay panic” defense during their trial, and one of the defendants admitted to beating Mr. Shepard because he was gay. How is that not a hate crime?

Yet Rep. Foxx had the gall to stand on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and say, “It’s really a hoax.”

Chancellor Peacock, I recognize the political reality with which you are faced, but as a gay man, who, while never having suffered as did Mr. Shepard, has been subjected to threats and discrimination, must also stand up to the very real face of hate. I have seen that in the face and words of Rep. Foxx, not only today, but in previous statements. So while I understand you will be able to take no action on this matter, I can act. I cannot, and will not, support any person, organization, group or institution that even associates itself with Rep. Foxx. A person with Rep. Foxx’s spirit of hatefulness and lack of integrity should not be actively exposed to the diverse group of young people under your charge as part of any University sponsored event

I hope you will appreciate that this is an extremely difficult decision on my part, but until such time as the University publicly denounces Rep. Foxx’s statement and bans her from access to the Campus or any University sponsored event, or until such time as the voters in her district recognize her for the hateful, dishonest person she is and vote her out of office, I will make no further contributions to ASU.

Again, I regret this decision, and hope that the time will be short when I can resume my contributions to my beloved Alma mater.

cc: Rep. Virginia Foxx