As several others have noted recently, Princeton University, demonstrating the openness and dedication to the free and unfettered exchange of ideas, no matter how controversial, for which American higher education is noted, decided to make Michelle Obama’s 1985 senior thesis unavailable until Nov. 5, 2008. Normally such theses are available in one of Princeton’s libraries.
Among the revealing excerpts noted by Politico:
… she said only one major university-recognized group on campus was “designed specifically for the intellectual and social interests of blacks and other third world students.”
“My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my ‘blackness’ than ever before,” the future Mrs. Obama wrote in her thesis introduction. “I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don’t belong. Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second.”
Obama writes that the path she chose by attending Princeton would likely lead to her “further integration and/or assimilation into a white cultural and social structure that will only allow me to remain on the periphery of society; never becoming a full participant.”
Mrs. Obama’s experience at Princeton was not unique. In the era of affirmative action it was in fact quite common for black students to feel blacker after they got to college than they had before. And if she learned there to identify herself as a “third world student,” perhaps it becomes less surprising that she found something to be proud of in the decidedly first world United States only quite recently.
But perhaps more revealing than the fashionable racial radical chic was the “mindset” (as her husband might say) of disdain for conventional, i.e., conservative, rules and principles. Where, you wonder, do I see such contempt for the established order in these short excepts?
Easy. Re-read the quotes above, noting the liberal (which is to say, incorrect), even profligate use of the semi-colon to separate items that all careful (which is to say, conservative) grammarians know it shouldn’t.
Semicolons have essentially two uses.
- A semicolon separates items in a list when the items themselves have internal punctuation: Gabrielle likes oranges; cherries; and red, yellow, and green apples.
- A semicolon separates two closely related clauses. In this function, it is slightly stronger than a comma, but weaker than a period. The clause before the semicolon and the clause after the semicolon should be complete sentences on their own; you should be able to replace the semicolon with a period and have two grammatically correct sentences. The previous sentence is an example.
It remains to be seen whether Mrs. Obama’s demonstrated disrespect for the proper use of the semi-colon will be excused as just a schoolgirl indiscretion or whether it will be viewed as part and parcel of husband’s difficulty with proper attribution.