Koppel Commencement Address Makes Plea for Civility

Ted Koppel

5/17/2009

Award-winning journalist Ted Koppel asked students at Suffolk University to consider a return to civility as he addressed 1,904 graduating College of Arts and Sciences and Sawyer Business School students.

In a thoughtful commencement address at the Bank of America Pavilion on Boston’s waterfront Koppel said that society routinely accepts obscene language while accommodating “the ever changing demands of political correctness.”

"National nervous breakdown"

“The absence of good manners and civility in our daily communion with one another is evidence of a great deal that is wrong with our society,” he said, noting that a commencement is one of the few events where obscene language is not commonplace.  “We are undergoing something of a national nervous breakdown.  We seek to intimidate rather than communicate.”

Litigation replacing manners

As civility breaks down, the nation turns to litigation to resolve differences, according to Koppel.
 
“It is becoming increasingly hard to find the connection between our daily lives and the laws that are intended to govern our behavior,” he said. 

“Unless and until we perceive civility to be in our common interest, our national pendulum will swing wildly between anarchy and authoritarianism. I know we can't dispense with our intricate fabric of laws.  But think how many of those laws would become irrelevant if we merely treated one another with common courtesy.  What I find so appealing about that notion, and the reason that I offer it to you on this important occasion in your lives, is that it lies within the capacity of each of one us to implement it.  Just consider it, please.” 

The Law School ceremonies were held in the morning, with Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley speaking.

Honorary degrees

Suffolk University awarded the following honorary degrees during its 2009 commencement exercises:

  • Koppel, honorary Doctor of Journalism
  • Coakley, honorary Doctor of Laws
  • Hon. Robert L. Carter, U.S. District Court Judge, Southern District of New York, honorary Doctor of Laws
  • Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, honorary Doctor of Laws
  • U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Newton, honorary Doctor of Laws
  • Peter Brooke, Advent International Corporation chairman and CEO, honorary Doctor of Commercial Science
  • Angela Diaz, MD, MPH, director of Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center and Jean C. and James W. Crystal professor of Pediatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, honorary Doctor of Science
  • David Hoberman, Mandeville Films, honorary Doctor of Humanities
  • Josh McCall, chairman and CEO of Jack Morton Worldwide, honorary Doctor of Commercial Science

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Transcript of Ted Koppel's Remarks