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Missing history

Staff Editorial | Thursday, January 22, 2009

On Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009, one of the biggest milestones in U.S. history was reached. For the first time ever, a black man will occupy the White House. Greeted with voluminous applause and worldwide vigor, Barack H. Obama became the 44th president of the United States. More than one billion people around the world tuned in to hear his inaugural address. Offices set up televisions and organized breaks to watch. High school classes gathered around the TV screen. But at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, students were forced to skip classes to watch this historic event. Or if they were lucky, their professors turned it on for them in class.

Why should students have to take an unexcused absence from class to experience the most celebrated event in recent history?

Students were also in classes Monday, Martin Luther King Day – a national day of service. Various school students volunteered at grocery stores, soup kitchens, and schools cancelled classes to do so. However, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students were in the classroom, unable to participate and give back to their community – which was an essential part of King’s legacy. Notre Dame, like thousands of other schools across the country should cancel classes for the day so Notre Dame can honor the memory and contribution of Dr. King.

Four years ago, when Father John Jenkins was inaugurated as University President, Notre Dame was given the day off. Does Fr. Jenkins outrank the president of the United States? Martin Luther King Jr.? Obviously, the answer is no, however, Barack Obama – the president of the United States – was not even given a few hours of attention by the University.

In anticipation of such a momentous week, the University should have prepared to usher in a new era. The simple action of watching the Inaugural address (which, mind you, was less than 15 minutes long) as a community in the Joyce Center or other venues on campus would have avoided the penalty of skipping classes and would have allowed students and faculty alike to witness history.

Watching the first black president take the White House ought to trump the extra 15 minutes of class time they would be missing. As such, both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s need to put into perspective that forfeiting 15 minutes of class is well worth the tradeoff of witness history, instead of watching it on YouTube three hours later.