Graduates appreciate Obama’s remarks
Madeline Buckley | Sunday, May 17, 2009
Kristina Sinutko said she was proud to be a Notre Dame graduate when the “We are ND” chant rang out from the senior class in response to protesters interrupting President Barack Obama’s Commencement address in the Joyce Center Sunday.
“You can’t come to our graduation and yell and get away with it,” she said.
Sinutko, a graduate of the College of Arts & Letters, said she thought both University President Fr. John Jenkins and the class of 2009 handled the interruptions in the ceremony “very appropriately.”
Although she said she was surprised Jenkins and Obama directly addressed the controversy surrounding the president’s visit to campus, Sinutko said it “would have been awkward” if the issue was not engaged.
“I’m so glad he talked about it,” she said. “He tried offered a peaceful solution to the problem instead of egging it on.”
Arts & Letters graduate Damian Kearney also said he was relieved when Obama addressed the “elephant in the room.”
“With all the conflicting emotions, it felt tense in there for awhile,” Kearney said. “I was a little surprised but very grateful both [Jenkins and Obama] talked about the issues.”
Kearney said the comments of Jenkins and Obama during Commencement succeeded in creating dialogue about many “moral and ethical” dilemmas between the Catholic Church and the political sphere.
Marlene Daut, a graduate who received a Ph.D. in English at the ceremony, said she appreciated Jenkins’ introduction to Obama’s address.
“I liked how Jenkins drew attention to the fact that less attention has been given to Obama honoring the University by speaking here,” Daut said. “Obama chose to have dialogue with Notre Dame.”
Daut said she believes Obama discussing the conflict on campus over his views on abortion was the “right thing to do.”
“It had seemed like he might avoid the issue,” she said. “But he was respectful of Notre Dame’s views.”
But not all students appreciated the abortion discussion at the graduation ceremony.
“I was surprised and disappointed,” graduate Joanna Emilian said. “It’s most disappointing that our Commencement ceremony had to be embroiled in this debate.”
Emilian represented her pro-life beliefs by wearing a mortar board with a cross and baby feet.
“The symbol, a cross and baby feet, is to represent the Catholic and pro-life viewpoints,” she said. “As a Catholic university, we shouldn’t be honoring individuals who so radically advocate anti-life views.”
Kim Stoddard, a graduate of the College of Engineering, also said she did not want to hear about the abortion debate during the ceremony.
“I was just thinking, ‘not more of the same thing,'” she said.
Chris Labadie, an Arts & Letters graduate and chairman of ND Response, the student coalition that protested the University’s invitation to Obama, attended the graduation ceremony wearing the mortar board with the cross and feet – representative of his pro-life viewpoint.
Labadie said he doesn’t think Commencement was necessarily the right venue to discuss the abortion debate, but he said Jenkins comments clarified some of the ambiguity surrounding the invitation.
“That is something ND Response has been looking for from Jenkins,” he said.
Labadie said he was surprised Obama discussed the controversy surrounding his invitation to speak at the graduation ceremony.
“I didn’t think he was going to touch on issues of life, but he did it in a good way,” he said. “It wasn’t incendiary.”
Graduate Jackie Kallberg said Obama’s speech to the graduates was funnier than she expected.
“I liked the part about Bookstore Basketball,” she said. “Mostly because I suck at basketball but love Bookstore.”
She said she was worried when Obama initially mentioned the abortion debate, but she said it eventually came off as open and dignified.
“It was an awesome speech, moving and very inspiring,” she said.
John Aland, a graduate from the Mendoza College of Business, said he enjoyed both Jenkins’ and Obama’s speeches during the ceremony.
“Fr. Jenkins came to play today,” he said. “They both dealt with the situation well.”
Aland said the people that interrupted Obama’s speech with yells about abortion acted inappropriately, but it didn’t ruin the ceremony for him.
“I didn’t pay them any attention,” Aland said. “The protesters didn’t affect my week.”
Graduate Patrick Sheehan said the “We are ND” chant that countered the yells from the crowd was “sweet.”
“There’s no place for protesters at graduation,” Sheehan, a Mendoza graduate said. “It was great.”
Arts & Letters graduate Molly Key said no matter what viewpoint students held about Obama speaking at Commencement, the events leading up to graduation made for a memorable experience.
“A lot of people say they don’t even remember their commencement speech,” Key said. “There’s no way we’ll forget this.”