Does someone have the right to free speech? Under the Constitution we are given
that right, even when the speech isn’t very kind or generous. This means you can
email, Facebook, Tweet, or Instagram most anything you want. But this begs the
question, just because you can, should you? Comedians walk this line daily and
sometimes cross it with devastating results.
Kathy Griffin, the comedienne, posted a picture of herself holding a severed head.
The face looked just like our current president. She tried to defend her right to free
speech but later changed her mind; maybe this picture was in poor taste. Maybe this
picture mixed current terrorist actions with our nation’s leader. Whether or not you
support the current president, this picture came perilously close to treason—was she
inciting someone to kill our president? Her poor judgment will cost her jobs, income,
When colleges and universities admit students, they want to be certain these students
will not be bringing poor judgment with them. Some schools, especially the small or
elite schools, will “search” students finding their “public” face, even pictures in which
they are tagged. And that public face needs to be engaging and acceptable. This search
doesn’t stop with colleges either. Many employers will use the same searches when
investigating future employees.
With the violence accompanying free speech on college campuses (Berkley, Middlebury, Evergreen),
students must learn how to “disagree without being disagreeable”. You do not have to agree
with every speaker, every professor, and every idea. But you do have to allow others to have
their opinions, ideas, and demonstrations within the limits of the law. Preventing the exchange
of ideas is one of the first steps taken by every leader trying to become a dictator. Violently
disagreeing with someone’s ideas is participating in anarchy.
Learning to listen, learning to respect others, and learning the law governing free speech should
be part of every student’s college preparation. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing, it means you
are mature enough to respect others and expect that same respect in return.
Before you apply for college or a job, be sure your public face truly reflects who you are. And when
in doubt, always remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Susan Teerlink is the accountability and admissions coach for College Funding Advisors, LLC,
located in Harrisonburg, VA. She was also a co-author on the book Secrets Of How To Avoid
Overpaying For College and is involved with GRASP, the Great Aspirations Scholarship
Program, a non-profit based in Richmond, Virginia. You can read her other articles at