Sitting in my dorm room, I hear a familiar buzz coming from above. Its source? A plane trailing a banner depicting a ten-week-old aborted fetus. For the Notre Dame community, this has been the norm since the university announced that President Barack Obama would be this year's commencement speaker. The class of 2009 is experiencing an event like no other before it. Being the youngest of three siblings to attend the university, I’ve seen my share of commencement weekends — but this one has the potential to be very different.
It’s truly a shame, as this weekend is not about being pro-life or pro-choice. This weekend shouldn't be a soapbox upon which groups argue over issues that are secondary to our graduation. Rather this is a time to honor our accomplishments and the efforts of the past four years. For groups to come and manipulate our event for their personal agenda is simply shameful.
As I was walking on to campus one day, a protester weilding a sign adorned with a graphic photo of an aborted fetus asked me if I was upset that Obama was coming. I answered him with a respectful “No.” Over the next few minutes he tried to argue that President Obama's role as my class' commencement speaker would ruin my graduation. It’s sad he didn’t realize it was the unnecessary press that he and his partners were generating that ultimately threatened the event.
As a student about enter into the real world, I cannot think of a better person to lead the way than President Obama. The role of a commencement speaker is to motivate graduates and propel them into the next phases of their lives. Notre Dame has a long-standing tradition of inviting newly-elected presidents to deliver the commencement address. Honestly, who could better offer their perspective on the matter than the man who will lead the nation for the next four years?
Contrary to what the opposition believes, I honestly feel that President Obama’s speech will not be an opportunity to campaign, nor will it be an opportunity for him to impress his political views upon us. It will be a speech that motivates and honors us as graduates. Given his accomplishments — and having seen his speeches countless times on TV and YouTube — I cannot wait for him to usher me to the next segment of my life.
Much to the chagrin of the protesters converging on our campus, as well as the media following them, Notre Dame is not a campus “torn in two.” Countless reporters have asked me and my classmates leading questions to insinuate that there is more of a conflict on our campus than what actually exists. The media is simply giving a very loud minority far more attention than the quiet majority. While there are students and faculty members who are against President Obama as our commencement speaker, the vast majority of our campus supports his invitation. More importantly, one does not have to agree with everything that the commander-in-chief stands for to benefit from the speech he will deliver.
Universities are supposed to be institutions that promote dialogue. So far, that has been the greatest benefit of inviting President Obama to deliver this year's address. In my four years on campus, I’ve never seen it so open to discussion of matters outside of football. In lecture halls, classrooms, dorms, even the dining hall, I’ve witnessed — and been part of — dialogues prompted by this invitation.
President Obama's upcoming visit has stimulated dialogue on a vast number of issues, including abortion and the rights of free speech. The invitation has helped our university even before a word has been spoken. It's reinforcing the very grounds upon which Notre Dame was founded — to prompt thought and conversation.
Although I can only offer a prediction, I believe Sunday will be a day that will forever change me. I know there will be many protesting the event, but I know that just as many, if not more, will be there to support our class. I know that we’ve all worked extremely hard for this day and we deserve to be honored. The university has dealt with its fair share of opposition in the past and survived. I am hopeful that students, faculty, and parents will be supportive, and prove that the spirit of Notre Dame still remains.
Matthew Degnan is graduating with a double major in Sculpture and Film Production. He is marketing the t-shirt he is wearing (pictured above) online, and says all proceeds will be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union.