CNN’s Don Lemon Addresses Pierson’s Class of 2017

Don Lemon, the CNN news anchor and a Sag Harbor homeowner, spoke to the class of 2017 at Pierson about expressing themselves respectfully. Jackie Pape photos

In acknowledging the current state of the world and the political arena in which we are living, the CNN news anchor and journalist Don Lemon addressed Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School class of 2017 on Saturday about the freedom of expression.

“Right now, as a journalist, I feel even more compelled to talk to you about the freedom of expression, in part because of what is going on in the world, and because of some people who are trying to limit us,” Mr. Lemon said. “But mainly I feel compelled to talk to you about it because you are about to embark on the most fantastic and wonderful journey of self-discovery, whether you realize it or not.”

As the sun beamed down on the front lawn -- something that seemed unlikely with the morning’s heavy rain -- Mr. Lemon spoke to the graduates about being open and expressing themselves respectfully. By sharing his experiences at Louisiana State University, and his many since then, he encouraged students to understand the true meaning of the First Amendment.

“In a few short months you will be grateful for that freedom,” Mr. Lemon said. “That freedom to petition, that freedom to protest, the freedom to form your own thoughts, your own opinions, and your own beliefs in your own space. You’re going to appreciate that more than you know, the freedom to become you.”

While imparting advice about dos and don’ts, Mr. Lemon stressed that the freedom to express yourself also allows others -- “even if you don’t share their beliefs” -- the same right.

“We cannot just allow to be said what we love; we must also allow to be said what we hate,” Mr. Lemon said. “By allowing it to be said, it allows it to be contemplated, it allows it to be dissected, and either proved or disproved.”

Throughout his speech, Mr. Lemon highlighted principles of decency and respect, something that left an impression on the graduates.

“I felt like everything he said resonated with all of us,” said Ella Parker, the salutatorian, who will attend University of California at Berkeley, in the fall. “He wove in a lot of words of wisdom, but he drove home freedom of expression, and he stressed that with his experiences.”

After urging the graduating class to be open to new ways of thinking, new people, different cultures, and other points of view, Mr. Lemon said his best piece of advice was this: “Instead of judging someone, be curious about why this person believes what they believe,” he said. “The question is, why do they think that? Or, more personally, why do you think that?”

There are 53 students in Pierson’s graduating class this year; 50 plan to attend college in the fall.