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  • Reverend James Squire

Michael Smerconish

Photo by Muhammad Rizwan

The President of Dickinson College has rescinded the invitation of Michael Smerconish to be their graduation speaker based on feedback from students.


I was head Chaplain of the Episcopal Academy for thirty-eight years and am writing on behalf of Mike Smerconish who was an Episcopal Academy parent and friend. I have not read the book, Flying Blind, that you reference in your letter rescinding Mike’s opportunity to address the students at Dickinson where many of my students have attended.


I have often used Michael as a model of what a journalist should be. He interviewed Former President Obama more times than anyone else. The reason for that is that Mike is the embodiment of respect when he interviews others or speaks publicly which he has done for me. Michael is also someone who is not defined by categories such as those that have split our nation. He always has been his own person with his own opinion and not to curry favor with a current political trend. In fact, there have been times when I thought that he would go one way on an issue, and he went another way always with a cogent argument why he chose a particular path.


A good many journalists today depend on the “gotcha” moment in their interviews. I have never seen Mike do that as he is more interested in dialogue and having others’ views deepened by experiencing his and vice versa.


What confounds me even more is that Michael has interviewed many of the important people in national and international affairs. I am not aware that anyone has said to him, “Sorry, you can’t interview me because of your views.”


Michael Smerconish knows students. He knows the spectrum of their views, but more importantly he possesses a wisdom that would inform his words to them to make a rich learning experience.


I wonder what message your student body would take by Mike’s words of long years gone by to think that he would still hold a particular view. Education is about change and growth.


Our school motto is a perfect description of Michael. Esse Quam Videri, to be rather than to seem to be. Be authentic. We need more of that in our nation. You have missed an opportunity to hear from someone who is the embodiment of the message itself. Governor Rendell’s Letter is below.


The Reverend James R. Squire, Hon.

Chaplain of the Episcopal Academy




Governor Ed Rendell’s Letter to Dickinson President John Jones

  • May 6, 2024

  • Governor Ed Rendell





In response to Michael Smerconish having been disinvited as the Dickinson College commencement speaker.


Dear John,

I am writing to express my disappointment in the college’s decision to rescind the invitation to Michael Smerconish to be its graduation speaker. I say that not to ignore the difficulty that many American colleges and universities are having responding to the after-effects of the Israeli Hamas war. I understand that you as the chief executive of the college have a responsibility to avoid disruption of college sanctioned events and I assume the decision was based on legitimate belief that Dickinson’s graduation ceremony could have been disrupted and sent into total chaos by demonstrators.

Given that belief I understand the college’s decision was the “safe course to follow” but I would submit that by taking the safe way-out the college is missing the opportunity to send the students an even more important message, that honest disagreement can be shown, and the speaker could be given the opportunity to express his point of view and even respond to the disagreement. In this instance, before graduation formally began, someone from the college should have noted the disagreement and given the students a short period to hold up their signs and make their disagreement known. And it should have been made clear to them that after that allotted period of time expired no disruption of the graduation ceremony or Mr. Smerconish’s speech would be tolerated. Demonstrators would then be required to sit back down and not block the view of any other attendees and to remain quiet.

I have been friends with Mr. Smerconish since before he was head of Housing Urban Development for Philadelphia. I have found him to be an extremely reasonable person who will listen to opposing points of view and on occasion even let them persuade him his initial position was incorrect. But I know he always has a well thought-out and well-reasoned argument in advance and in support of whatever decision he makes. I think your students and all attendees would have gotten some things to really think about from his remarks and they are all poorer for being denied that opportunity.

I am deeply troubled by our nation’s seeming divide into two camps, with each side denying the possibility of the other having anything g worthwhile to say. If we continue down this road, we are headed to the colloquial “hell in a handbasket.” When I was Governor of Pennsylvania I took pride in the education offered by both Dickinson College and Dickinson Law School. I still do and personally believe that you have done a wonderful job advancing the education you have given your students. But I am sad to say in this one instance I think you have failed by preventing them from having an important lesson on free speech and the benefits of civil discourse and any disagreement which would flow from it. Students must learn we must agree to disagree but also agree not to be disagreeable about it.

Ed Rendell

#45th Governor of Pennsylvania2003-2011

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