She strode to the podium with an effervescence that has endeared her to millions of fans. NBC’s Hoda Kotb was thrilled to be back in New Orleans. Her short commencement speech at Tulane about 9 life lessons was personal and funny especially as she regaled the 2016 graduates with her tales of career rejection. She couldn’t have been more well received--ending her speech to the thunderous applause of a lengthy standing ovation.

How could this be the same person who just months earlier students and parents wanted to disinvite? In an online petition, the group complained that “Hoda Kotb spends her time sipping wine on talk shows.” Petitioners said they felt cheated and were embarrassed to have her as a speaker writing, “We think we deserve better.” Hundreds of Kotb supporters signed a counter petition. And Hoda herself weighed in with a breezy, “Forget the petition, I love the response. See you soon.”

Protests against commencement speakers or other special guests-- used to be an occasional occurrence, now they seem to happen all the time. At issue is free speech--specifically, whose speech is offensive and whose is not. A thorny question for a country founded on the principle of free speech, and for colleges and universities thought to be centers of vibrant robust discourse.

Suzanne Venker’s views on feminism don’t come close to anything I know to be reality. But she was invited to speak in an alum-funded, student- programmed series at Williams called “Uncomfortable Learning.” The program exists to give students an opportunity to hear from controversial voices. But the backlash against Venker was so intense, there was concern about violence. Venker is a self-described conservative, but speakers all along the ideological spectrum have been disinvited from campuses.

College was the place I learned that there were many ways to approach certain issues. Where I admitted to myself that even people whose views were way off the mark--to me--sometimes had a point. And I didn’t have to change my mind to acknowledge that. Honestly, the passionate debates helped me build stronger arguments and find clearer examples to support what I believed. So I’m concerned about students today cutting themselves off from hearing all viewpoints.

Many say the answer to offensive speech is more speech. Agreed. But I also know that often when it comes dealing with issues of race on college and university campuses, free speech is increasingly being used as a defense against unrecognized and unacknowledged racism. I hope the recent spate of protests would lead administrators to deal with these racial tensions head on instead of waiting until the campus explodes.

During this commencement season, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education monitors the speakers who’ve been disinvited – this year the group includes Former House Speaker John Boehner, Vice-President Joe Biden, and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Two years ago, another former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was disinvited from Rutgers. This is tough stuff with no easy solution. But I do know if our colleges and universities are to shape the leaders we need in the world, students must learn to embrace differences. Otherwise, I fear my mother’s oft repeated warning. “In the land of the blind, she said, the one-eyed man is king.”