I would like to correct a misunderstanding I think you may have in regards to ‘character.’ You seem to believe it is about the moral or ethical courage to stand alone and sacrifice, as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane; it is more than that. It is propriety. Propriety is the quality of doing the right thing at the right time. Propriety may not be glamorous or romantic, may not get you headlines or convince anyone of your views, but it is the very soul of character, of moral and ethical strength. After all, if one is unable or unwilling to do the right thing in the right moment, but rather insists on doing a right thing at a wrong time (or worse, a wrong thing at a wrong time), how can that person truly be said to possess moral or ethical strength, which encompasses far more than courage, but also discipline and discretion?
You define character as “sacrifice, laying our personal interests down for something bigger” yet you have belied that very definition by your actions and words at the recent Convocation. You have chosen to put your personal interests in spreading the message of Christ before the “something bigger” on whose behalf you were acting—namely, the Dartmouth student body.
I am certain you believe that the “something bigger” you were working for was Christ Himself, but I believe that you in fact neglected entirely what should have been your primary responsibility—your role as Student Assembly President and thus representative of the student body. The duty you owe to our student body is one of representing—or doing your very best to—all voices while silencing or estranging none. This may mean that while you are acting in this capacity, you cannot fulfill your duties to God in the same manner you might otherwise do.
I realize that many Christians believe that no duty comes before their duty to Christ, but I also believe that Christ, at least in the Gospels, was pragmatic. He realized clearly that there are days and times for proselytizing and there are days and times for more worldly matters. Christ was comfortable with allotting to the world what is owed to the world; he was comfortable with fulfilling secular and material obligations when they needed fulfilled.
I assume you know your Bible well enough to substantiate this claim, but Matthew 22:21 is always a good place to start: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” I Peter 2:13-17 also works well:
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
I am sure that the outcry against you must now seem like “the ignorance of foolish men,” but I think it is more important that you realize that you should not “us[e] your liberty [of speech] for a cloak of maliciousness”—which in this case, I hope, amounts to insensitivity. Insensitivity to the fact that the day, time, and place you chose to speak was not one that was dedicated to Christ, nor need it have been. It was a time to challenge students, sure, but not to do so in a manner that had at least the potential of alienating some of them.
Some have suggested that this small impropriety of yours has been blown out of proportion, that if you had used an innocuous figure from popular culture, then this whole thing would have not been an issue. What that sort of argument ignores is the very fact that you tried to make clear in your speech—exactly how important a position the figure of Jesus Christ is in society.
If all you were doing is dropping his name, you show tremendous ignorance of the kind of impact a mention of Christ has on many students who do not share your faith. It is ironic that you can put Christ at the center of your life but fail utterly to see the tenor and shape of his relation to people other than yourself or Christians like you. Christ is simply not a positive figure in many people’s lives. This may be an unfortunate fact in your opinion, but it is not and will not be solved by thrusting His Cross into a Convocation speech.