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Donahue Gets Crowd Riled Up At N.C. State Graduation

Posted May 19, 2003

— Talk show pioneer Phil Donahue heard boos and catcalls Saturday during a politically tinged commencement address at North Carolina State University.

Donahue's speech was peppered with his political opinions. It was met with boos that rained down like confetti.

A handful of students walked out of the ceremony at the RBC Center. Some yelled at Donahue to "get off the stage." Others booed when Donahue listed "what liberals believe," including the true separation of church and state.

Donahue told the graduates that the rights and privileges in the Constitution have been eroded.

Without mentioning George W. Bush, he said only Congress can declare war and not the president. He said basic liberties are being undermined by the war on drugs and by a "trend toward to the sword rather than a trend toward civility."

What liberals believe, he said, "is that no one in authority should tell you to 'shush,' that executing retarded teenagers is wrong, and that unions give workers a deserved place at the bargaining table."

Donahue, 67, urged the graduates to help renew basic American constitutional values of free speech, separation of church and state, and respect for the rights of minorities.

"Your mission is to challenge your public servants and bring America back to basic constitutional values," he told the students.

He urged political conservatives to be tolerant of those with differing views.

"Take a liberal to lunch," he said. "Take a Dixie Chick to lunch."

Donahue is a nine-time Daytime Emmy winner for his syndicated talk show, which began in 1967 and aired nationally from 1970 to 1996, paving the way for dozens of such shows to follow. His most recent talk show on MSNBC was canceled in February after six months.

He was invited to speak in part because he and an N.C. State professor both attended the University of Notre Dame. He got loud applause by noting that N.C. State beat Notre Dame in this year's Gator Bowl.

"I came looking for liberals," he said, "and here at N.C. State I found friends."

Some in the crowd called his comments "left wing." Others said a graduation wasn't the place for his political platform.

"It was their day to shine," said Brad Royal, who attended the ceremony, speaking of the graduates. "They had achieved four years working for this moment, and he (Donahue) used it to get back in the spotlight, and this wasn't a time for his spotlight. It was their time to shine"

An N.C. State spokesman later said the crowd was generally respectful and that some students cheered his comments.

About 3,700 students graduated from N.C. State Saturday.

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