Meacham: Reject ‘alternative facts’ and blind partisanship

Meacham: Reject ‘alternative facts’ and blind partisanship
May 18
07:00 2017



Presidential Historian Jon Meacham told graduates to embrace reflection and logic instead of partisanship and “alternative facts” during Wake Forest University’s commencement on Monday, May 15.

Meacham is a former editor-in-chief of Newsweek and has written several books on presidents, including “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” which won a Pulitzer Prize.

He told the graduates they’d seen a lot of history in their lifetimes, including the election of the first black president, Barack Obama, which drew cheers from the crowd.

When he said they’d also seen “the most unconventional major party candidate in American history win the highest office in the land,” referring to President Donald Trump, there were a few “boos.” He responded with a bit of historical humor.

“George Herbert Walker Bush, confronted with moments like that, used to say, ‘Mark her down as undecided,”’ said Meacham while doing an impression of the former president, whom he’s also written a book on.

He said partisanship in the country has caused people to become reflexive instead of reflective about information. He said people will often dismiss a point simply because of who says it, which he called “a foreclosure of reason.”

“I beg you, truly be reflective of our public life, make up your mind based on facts and evidence, not alternative facts or alternative evidence,” he said to applause from the graduates.

Presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts” to describe the inaccurate information coming from the White House about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. It’s been a term embraced by the president’s critics to mockingly describe political falsehoods.

Meacham told the nearly 1,900 graduates in attendance that the world they’re about to enter is not only more partisan, but more global than ever before.

Communications major Dwayne Peterkin II was among the graduates who was ready to embrace that global world. Peterkin is from the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland, and is the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college. He lives just minutes away from where the protests were held for Freddie Gray’s death, a Baltimore man many say was killed by police. He doesn’t know of anyone else in his neighborhood who’s been to college recently, but does have neighbors who were incarcerated. He said hard work, family support and a Magnolia scholar grant let him achieve his Wake Forest dream.

Peterkin already has a job lined up next year at CEB, a global best practice insights and technology company based in Washington, DC. He plans to pursue a masters degree and do business around the world.

“Many people say that I beat the odds, but that’s not good enough for me,” said Peterkin.

Psychology major Chizoba Ukairo, who is from Columbia, Maryland, also plans to make a difference. She’s hoping to work at the Wake Forest Pro Humanitate Institute and then go to law school. Her future dreams include practicing law, writing policy and becoming a judge.

“I want to affect change and I feel like law is a really cool way to do that,” she said.

A first generation Nigerian-American, she said she was always expected to go to college and follow in the footsteps of other successful women in her family, like her late mother, who was a doctor, and her grandmother, who was a superintendent in Nigeria.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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