ELIZANDRO: Not the time

John Elizandro

Though most seniors will hate to admit it, graduation – and the end of their college lives – is almost here. In just a few short weeks, graduates across the country will begin to don their caps and gowns for the closing ritual of the college experience: commencement. As most people already know, colleges will often invite a distinguished public figure to address the graduates and their families.

At Notre Dame, though, this year’s commencement speaker has created a great deal of controversy. The invited speaker is President Barack Obama, and predictably, the controversy centers around his views and actions on abortion.

The case for inviting the president of the United States to deliver a commencement address is obvious. Obama himself has an inspiring life story and, by all accounts, has achieved remarkable success at convincing people to vote for him. But a more fundamental question remains. Should a university invite a public figure who has actively opposed and subverted one of its core values and beliefs to address its graduates at commencement?

Universities, Catholic or not, should be places for open discussion and conversation. From vigorous debate arise powerful ideas, and one of the most important functions of higher education is to serve as a safe, open venue for dialogue and argument. Speakers from across the political spectrum should be welcome to share their views in academia, and freedom of thought is of paramount importance. There is a time and a place for such conversations on a college campus, but it is not the commencement ceremony.

The commencement address serves as the final message a university chooses to deliver to its graduates. The selection of the commencement speaker is an explicit endorsement of the figure on whom the honor is bestowed. A speaker often receives an honorary degree, which recognizes his or her contributions to society and the actions they have taken to further the ideals valued by the university. Unfortunately, many of President Obama’s actions are in direct opposition to Notre Dame’s Catholic ideals.

It is not Obama’s views on abortion or any other subject which should disqualify him from making the graduation address at a Catholic university. It is his actions. Abortion is an issue of grave concern to Catholicism, and President Obama is the most radically pro-abortion president this nation has elected in decades. One of his first actions as president was to remove restrictions on federal funding for foreign organizations that perform abortion. Obama has repealed protection for doctors whose moral beliefs preclude them from performing or prescribing treatments like abortions or birth control pills. Obama has done more to advance the abortion agenda than any president in the last 30 years.

It is not necessary for every commencement speaker at a Catholic college to adhere to Catholic doctrine on every issue. But when the nation’s highest-profile Catholic university invites the nation’s highest-profile pro-abortion speaker to give the commencement address, it is entirely reasonable for Notre Dame’s Catholic community, and the Catholic community nationwide, to be outraged. The pro-life position is not always a popular one, especially in higher education, but Catholic universities should serve as outposts of moral clarity, even if such clarity is not politically expedient.

Notre Dame’s leadership has made an unfortunate decision that reflects poorly not only on Notre Dame, but on the moral courage of all Catholic universities. When he arrives in South Bend, Obama should be treated with the respect the President of the United States deserves. However, Notre Dame must remember that its highest loyalty is not to glowing publicity or good politics, but to the Catholic morality upon which it was founded. Notre Dame, like all Catholic Universities, has a set of core values and beliefs to which it must absolutely adhere. One of them is the sanctity of human life and inviting a committed abortion activist to deliver the keynote address to the university’s graduates is a betrayal of the very values a Catholic institution must value the most.


John Elizandro is a freshman business major from Radnor, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].