| Ms. Seeger’s commencement speech is essentially a feeble attempt to defend her conduct as assistant dean. She opens by saying that it is important to say something new in a commencement speech and then says that she cannot say anything new because of her sense of decorum and because it would be illegal to violate students’ privacy. She deals with this supposed inner conflict by giving a speech about nothing. She mostly talks about herself while somehow managing not to reveal anything about herself or her administrative philosophy. Her speech is entirely self-serving, designed to explain that she is a good person. She ends with an old song popularized by her uncle, Pete Seeger.
In the middle of her speech, she realizes that she does have something new to say after all. The something new turns out to be nothing more than that she socializes with students; she prattles about how wonderful it is to be able to have a pleasant conversation with students after punishing them. Yet her pleasant conversation skills do not make her a good person. She should be judged not by her words but by her actions. Everyone knows about her treatment of Webster Ye and that her cocaine investigation was nothing more than a witch hunt. But there are many lesser-known incidents that shed light on her, as when she found pot in a student’s room after searching it without his knowledge or permission (illegally under Maryland landlord-tenant law, incidentally), punished him mildly, and then waited for the summer to kick him out. Or when she kicked another student out for breaking a bottle. Her philosophy as assistant dean is that if she doesn’t like you, she’ll cheerfully kick you out for a minor offense. St. John’s is a community of people who make mistakes, and the cohesiveness of the community is damaged when people are forced abruptly to leave. Of course, since she is so quick to expel people, it sometimes happens that people are kicked out when they haven’t done anything wrong.
She makes no secret that she is related to Pete Seeger, as if being related to him makes her a better person. But Pete Seeger would be shocked if he knew that his niece is the stereotypical evil authority figure that he spends his life opposing. It may seem strange to call Ms. Seeger evil, for she maintains a warm demeanor. Yet there is a dark interior behind the pleasant mask. She thanks the senior class for inviting her to give the commencement address, but it is doubtful that the students who would have been seniors if she hadn’t expelled them would be as thrilled by her presence. She unhesitatingly lies to the Washington Post that no intimidation tactics were used to get people to implicate their friends in the cocaine investigation, but her supporters have their heads in the sand if they believe that people would betray their friends without coercion. If she wanted to talk about herself, instead of pretending that she’s everyone’s friend she could have used the opportunity to acknowledge that she believes in using harsh tactics and enforcing strict discipline and explain why she feels that following this course of action is necessary.