General Colin L. Powell, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is without question worthy of our admiration and respect. He has risen through the ranks of a military system which only half a century ago would have placed him in a segregated fighting unit. He has proved himself an outstanding military leader through his conduct of the Gulf War.
In an ideal world, one in which protesters would put aside their Harvard--esque righteous indignation for one day, Powell would be an excellent choice for Harvard's Commencement speaker. However, in a world as imperfect as our own. Powell's visit will inevitably incite tension and large-scale protests.
Whether or not you agree with him (one of us does, one of us doesn't), his view on the issue of gays in the military should not be the primary reason against his coming. Harvard should not have selected Powell because of the demonstrations that will certainly ensue.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the opposition to Powell. The disturbances, due to their size and intensity, will far exceed those of Commencements past, and will violate the most basic sense of decorum to which Harvard's Commencement ought to adhere.
To invite a speaker only to greet him with angry shouts and accusations of bigotry reflects very poorly on Harvard as an institution. The demonstrations will undermine the unity which should be present on a day which is the culmination of four years of academic endeavor. And most importantly, they demean the accomplishments of a man who deserves our highest esteem.