President Barack Obama delivered a greatly anticipated and controversial commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame on Sunday.
The core of the controversy was Obama’s pro-choice stance and his support for funding of stem-cell research, both of which are inconsistent with the Roman Catholic beliefs of many Notre Dame students. His scheduled appearance sparked protests and led to 39 arrests prior to the speech, according to CNN.
The most notable arrest was that of Norma McCorvey, who was “Roe” in the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. She has since changed her views and is pro-life.
Though the school has strong Roman Catholic principles, people should not have protested Obama’s speech just because of his opposing views. The speech was not to persuade students to become pro-choice, but rather to congratulate them on their academic success and encourage them on the road ahead.
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement saying that Obama will “obviously make mention of the debate that’s been had.” He added, however, that “this is a commencement ceremony, a special occasion for families to celebrate … the president will understand that’s the most important aspect of the day.”
According to CNN, other presidents that have given the commencement speech at the Notre Dame include Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. Many of these presidents have been in favor of death penalty legislation, which the Roman Catholic religion also disagrees with, but none have inspired so much
Since Obama announced his run for president, he has attracted a lot of media attention. Everything he does is blown out of proportion by the media, so people automatically exaggerate his opinions and positions.
A senior at Notre Dame, Emily Toates, skipped the speech. “I do not feel comfortable going and celebrating him as the university hands him an honorary degree — in a sense honoring his policies,” she said to CNN. “If he was invited to a town hall meeting … where we were discussing these issues … I would go and hear what he has to say. The problem is … there isn’t that opportunity for dialogue.”
The school and its students should be honored to have such an iconic figure speaking at their commencement ceremony. As graduates from law school, they should have learned that no one has the same views but we have to respect and listen to each argument.
One would hope that future lawyers who have just graduated from one of the best universities in the country would not walk out on a case just because of contradictory views. They would obviously not be very efficient at their profession if they did.
But by boycotting their graduation, that is exactly what some of the graduates did. They also diminished the reputation of Notre Dame with their closed-minded actions.
During the speech, Obama urged a “fair minded” discussion of the abortion debate. His recommendations for finding a common ground included working together to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, making adoption more available and caring for and supporting women who carry their child to term.
The president only addressed the abortion issue during the commencement speech because of the controversy surrounding it. If the media had not inflated the issue, there would have been fewer arrests, protesters and boycotts. It would have been just another commencement speech by a sitting president.
Xhenis Berberi is a senior majoring in political science and economics.