Rescind Bill Cosby's Honorary Degree from RPI
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On May 21, 2001, I sat in the Pepsi Arena in Albany, New York, with 1,100 of my peers as we awaited our chance to walk across the stage and receive our hard-earned degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. We spent countless sleepless nights working and learning everything we possibly could to help us go out and change the world with the likes of George Washington Gale Ferris Jr, inventor of the Ferris Wheel, Jack Swigert, Air Force test pilot and NASA astronaut, and Marcian Hoff, father of the microprocessor.
In previous years, commencement speakers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have ranged from presidents of large organizations and inventors to scientists and entrepreneurs. For this graduation, comedian Bill Cosby was chosen to provide us with the keynote speech and send us off with words of wisdom, experience, and advice for the future. RPI president Shirley Ann Jackson introduced Cosby by saying he “emphatically believes that the best assurance for a satisfying and rewarding life begins with knowledge.” She went on to present him with an honorary degree which he crassly accepted only after removing his ceremonial robes to reveal a sweatshirt and baseball cap with tassel. Should he have known better than to laugh in the face of a tradition dating back hundreds of years?
While this move was somewhat disrespectful, Cosby went on to deliver a motivating speech about character, integrity, and honesty - essential words for every graduate spoken by America’s tv dad, Dr. Cliff Huxtable. He went on to say “No one will know who you are unless you tell the truth. No one will know who you are if you don’t take responsibility for the mistakes that you make, and stand up and say, ‘I did it.’”
Nearly 17 years to the date of this speech, Cosby, the man who spoke to us on the importance of character and integrity, has been found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home in 2004. Not to mention the dozens of women who have accused him of similar allegations. This man, a stand-up comedian who was once an actor and producer of a beloved family show in the 80’s and 90’s, turns out to not possess the character, integrity, or honesty about which he spoke. The District Attorney for the case told reporters “What was revealed through this investigation was a man who had spent decades preying on women that he drugged and sexually assaulted. He used his celebrity, he used his wealth, he used his network of supporters to help him conceal his crimes.”
This man came to our graduation, made a mockery of the honorary degree our college bestowed upon him and presented us with advice he himself did not stand behind. While it is not possible to take back the past or erase the fact that Cosby spoke at graduation, he can and should be stripped of the Honorary Doctorate of Arts and Humane Letters he received that day. So many others have already rescinded their honors on the basis of mere allegations, but they are now court ruled crimes he has committed towards women. RPI should follow suit and not tarnish or minimize the achievements of their hardworking, honest, and decent students.
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