Northam Backs Out of VMI Commencement

McKelvey Collins, Print Editor

It is hard to tell when the public forgets about a person’s wrongdoings, and just how much that will damage their career. For every Kevin Spacey, whose most recent movie earned a total of $167 at the domestic box office (that number is not in millions or thousands, just one hundred and sixty-seven dollars), there is an Ariana Grande, who was simultaneously bashed and praised for performing at Coachella, a music festival whose founder consistently donates to anti-LGBT organizations. So there is no telling what effect Va. Governor Ralph Northam’s speech at the 2019 Virginia Military Institute graduation would have had on the populace. But I can tell you one thing: it would not have been good.
Northam, who was at the center of a recent scandal about wearing blackface in his college photos, has been “lying low” for the past couple months. And who can blame him? The situation is disgraceful and uncomfortable, and embarrassing with a capital E. And though Northam has apologized, this scandal is a stain on his political track record that he will carry with him for the rest of his career.
So it is no wonder that he dropped out of his role as VMI commencement speaker.
One of Northam’s spokespeople told CBS News that Northam decided not to speak “in order to ensure that commencements remain focused on celebrating graduates, their families, and their achievements.”
This was the right move. By refraining from giving a speech, Northam is sparing VMI from any scrutiny about his past actions and from any other embarrassment. The focus of the commencement should be on the graduates themselves and their successes, not his failures. Were he to speak, the focus would shift to his own disgrace.
What Northam did was wrong; there is no question about it. And he is facing the consequences of his actions: part of those consequences are not giving a commencement speech. Some would say that is a exorbitant punishment, but I would say it is a small price to pay for furthering racial stereotypes and engaging in racist actions. Hopefully, Northam has learned a lesson from this, and therefore will endeavor to be a better ally in the future, starting with pulling out from his commencement engagement at VMI.