America's Future Will Rely on Civil Disagreement, Baldacci Tells Graduates

May 22, 2010 — Disagreement. Some name-calling. A little derision.

Such is democracy, novelist David Baldacci told University of Virginia graduates today at the traditional Class Valedictory Exercises held on Finals Weekend.

"Many esteemed scholars will tell you that politics has never been nastier and more personal than it is today," he said. "Really?"

Thomas Jefferson's camp called John Adams a "hideous hermaphroditical character." Adams supporters called Jefferson "a mean-spirited low-lived fellow." Fellow Republicans labeled Abraham Lincoln, among other epithets, "a despot, a liar, a thief." Harry Truman said those who voted for Richard Nixon in 1960 should go to hell.

"All things considered, politics today is pretty tame," Baldacci said. "However, disagreement does not and never will equate with being un-American. In fact, being an American requires us from time to time to disagree.

"It's all quite democratic, really."

Baldacci addressed about 4,000 students and family members on the Lawn under a gray but rainless sky.

Also during Valediction, Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards were given to fourth-year students Courtney Mallow and Ben Chrisinger and U.Va. swimming and diving coach Mark Bernardino. The class of 2010's gift of $378,900 was warmly received by President John T. Casteen III, who also welcomed President-elect Teresa A. Sullivan to Grounds for Finals Weekend. Recipients of class awards are listed here.

Baldacci, best-selling author of such political thrillers as "Absolute Power" and the new release, "Deliver Us From Evil," is a 1986 graduate of the U.Va. Law School. He recounted his journey from fair high school student to fair college student to fair law student – the whole time pursuing his passion for writing.

As a political science major at Virginia Commonwealth University, he recalled, he visited his adviser during junior year to figure out what he should do after graduation. "Well, there is law school," she said. "In fact, many people with no apparent skills go on to law school."

After receiving his law degree, he became a trial lawyer by day and a writer by night. "And that's why I write," he said. "I have a passion for it, and passion is rare. Most people never find it."

If passion is in your grasp, he advised the graduates, grab it. "Odds are very good it won't come around a second time."

He added, though, that making a little money is also a good thing. "Your parents, I am sure, love you. But they also want to turn your bedroom into a walk-in closet."

Baldacci recalled that his graduation speaker said the students were facing the greatest challenges ever.  "But I suppose if I were standing here in 1862 or 1942 or 2002, I could, with all sincerity, say the same thing."

The best thing today's graduates can do, he said, is to listen, discuss important issues civilly. And if you change someone's opinion, that's great, "but do not be fearful or dismayed if someone changes your mind."

— By Marian Anderfuren