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Some applaud, others condemn Obama announcement

Madeline Buckley | Monday, March 23, 2009

The University’s announcement that President Barack Obama will deliver the 2009 Commencement address has inspired strong responses – both positive and negative – from seniors and student groups.

Students are vocalizing support as well as condemnation of the University’s decision through numerous Facebook groups, blogs and other outlets.

Junior Mary Daly, president of Notre Dame’s Right to Life club, said she is disappointed in the University’s choice of speaker.

Although she said she believes it is an honor to have the president speak at Notre Dame, Daly said Obama’s strong pro-choice beliefs and support for the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) contradicts the Catholic mission of the University.

“It is kind of a bummer for seniors, especially those who really don’t support or agree with Obama’s views,” she said. “It’s kind of a slap in the face for them. They have been at Notre Dame for four years working for this diploma and here is someone speaking at your graduation who you fundamentally don’t agree with.”

Daly said Obama’s recent executive order to lessen federal limits on funding for stem cell research also goes against Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.

“To my understanding, most speakers we’ve had in the past have been in relative agreement with the University,” she said.

Daly told The Observer Sunday that Right to Life has not yet formulated plans to address the issue, but the group will meet Tuesday to “make definite plans.”

She said many pro-life groups and news agencies have been in touch with her.

“There are a ton of ideas flying around,” Daly said. “But we don’t have any decisions yet. Those will be coming out in a few days.”

But many students are voicing excitement at the prospect of hearing Obama speak at graduation.

Senior Spencer Howard, president of the College Democrats at Notre Dame, described his reaction to hearing the news with one word: “amazement.”

Howard said most College Democrats are supporters of Obama and campaigned strongly for the president during the 2008 election.

“I think we all are still stunned about it,” he said. “I don’t think anyone really expected to have the president of the United States speak at our commencement.”

Howard said the negative reactions from some students and outside groups is to be expected.

“There is always going to be somebody who’s not happy,” he said.

Even though there are students who disagree with Obama’s views and policies, Howard said many of the reactions he has seen rise above political beliefs.

“Everyone I’ve talked to, regardless of party, is pretty excited,” he said.

Senior Brittany Love said she believes the University was not considering politics when making the decision, but rather, looking for a charismatic commencement speaker.

“He’s a great speaker,” she said. “And if you look at him overall, he has a great image.”

Love said she is excited about the Commencement address because she is taking part in the University’s graduation ceremony and the African American Recognition Ceremony, which takes place earlier in the day.

“We are trying to get him to come to the ceremony,” she said. “We are still working on it though.”

Love said the African American Recognition Ceremony already has a keynote speaker, but the participants just want Obama to “stop by.”

Senior Colin Diamond said he believes Obama’s political positions should have been considered before the University extended the invitation to speak at graduation.

“They really need to consider the views of the person speaking,” he said. “Frankly, I’m disappointed.”

Although it is a University tradition to invite the current U.S. president to speak, Diamond said Obama’s position on abortion should have caused the University to withdraw the invitation before the president accepted.

“I will still go to the commencement ceremony,” he said. “I’m not going to avoid my own graduation.”

Diamond said he does not think Obama will discuss his views on abortion at all, but he said he hopes the president will try to reach out to Catholics in some way in his speech.

Senior Emily Toates also said she fundamentally disagrees with Obama’s position on abortion.

“I don’t think he belongs as a speaker at Notre Dame,” she said. “I understand that he’s the president, but at the same time, his views and his policy-making are completely out of line with the mission of the University.”

Toates said despite her disagreement with the University’s choice of Commencement speaker, she will probably still attend the ceremony.

“I haven’t completely decided though,” she said.

Toates said she will most likely participate in any protests that may occur in the months leading up to the ceremony.

Senior Katie McAnany said she personally does not agree with Obama’s position on abortion, but is still excited to hear him speak.

“I’m honored the president decided to come here to give the address,” she said. “He’s a great speaker and I know he’s not coming here to talk about abortion.”

Although there is a lot of controversy surrounding the University’s choice of speaker, McAnany said she believes there is a chance for a positive outcome for all involved.

“I think we can use this as an opportunity to create some dialogue with Obama,” she said.