Interesting, U of W no less. Go Badgers! www.suntimes.com Back to regular view http://www.suntimes.com/output/laney/cst-edt-laney31.html Print this page Madison graduates show the new faces of our future May 31, 2004 BY MARY LANEY It was amazing. Had I not been there to see it and hear it, I never would have believed it. But I, and thousands of others, witnessed it in Madison, Wis. It happened during commencement exercises at the Kohl Arena. Thousands of graduates marched onto the floor in their caps and gowns, then sat on chairs atop the floor where the Badgers play Big Ten basketball. Proud parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, friends and acquaintances sat in the tiers above, cameras flashing as they spotted their particular graduate. The university band played a selection of rousing tunes as the assortment of deans and professors filed onto a stage facing the assemblage. A greeting to the students was read, and then everyone was asked to rise and sing the national anthem. Afterward, the professors were introduced, short speeches were made, and then the commencement speaker was introduced. The school had chosen an actor for the honor because he had grown up in Madison. He began his speech with this: ''I bring you greetings from the acting president of the United States!'' The throng of graduates erupted in cheers. The actor-speaker, you see, was none other than Bradley Whitford, who is seen weekly on the television series ''The West Wing.'' And he was on a roll . . . or so he thought. He followed his message with a question. How was he asked to speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison when the real president of the United States spoke the day before at a small college of 5,000 students in Mequon near Milwaukee? This is where the amazing thing happened. When Whitford said, ''President George Bush was at Concordia [University] yesterday,'' the students erupted with applause and cheers. They were cheering for George W. Bush! The University of Wisconsin -- where Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, was born; the place known to be so far left it's off the charts -- had students cheering for a Republican president! It appeared to surprise the speaker as his speech abruptly turned to a list of suggestions -- a formula, so to speak -- on how to achieve their goals in life. It was surprising to hear this show of support for the sitting president, who is anything but liberal. And it made me wonder how the campus had taken such a radical U-turn. Later, I asked some of the graduates what they thought of the commencement address and why they had cheered the president. Their answers came quickly. They didn't like Whitford's remarks about the president. They didn't think the time was right to attack a president who was leading the country in a war against terrorism. I asked them if they supported the war, and to a graduate, they did -- at least more than dozen I spoke with. And they told me why. They told me they have friends who are in the service -- in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and they know the sacrifices they are making. These students were history majors, and they have been studying and reading and watching just what has been happening in the world. They told me that this is a war of civilizations, and that those who are attacking the president for fighting the war in Iraq would have attacked the president had he not gone into Iraq. They pointed out that the critics of the president attacked him for taking too long to go after Afghanistan . . . and yet attacked him for going to war against Iraq too soon. It was hard to believe I was hearing this in Madison. I remember the protests against the Vietnam War, the marches, even a bombing on the campus when I was a student there. But that was a different time and a war we never set out to win. Now I see a different student emerging. These students are not chanting ''Hell no, we won't go!'' They're saying we're there and we're fighting those who have attacked us and want to destroy us. They're saying they know servicemen and women who have volunteered to be there, and they want their friends back safely and, until they are back, they want them to know they have support. It was an eye-opener. These graduates have now left Madison with their degrees. They're back home with their families in states across the country. They've received a liberal education and learned to think for themselves. It's going to be interesting to watch this class of 2004, to see what they do in this world of uncertainty and political divisiveness. They've already learned a great lesson: to evaluate information, question it, and come up with individual thought. There's one more thing. Today is Memorial Day, and I have a feeling it will be observed by these graduates with more than just barbecue and baseball. Watch for these graduates. You may see them today, observing a moment of silence -- the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 this afternoon -- pausing from whatever they're doing to show respect and give thanks to those who have given so much for all of us. If you see them, you might join them. That's what today is for, after all. Copyright © The Sun-Times Company All rights reserved.