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My pick for my Commencement speaker

Kevin Kimberly | Monday, January 24, 2011

By now, it should be clear that I love to complain and make fun of a lot of Notre Dame quirks and student behaviors. Heck, if it were not for these numerous things, I would resort to boring you with political columns. This column, though, is dedicated to something that actually makes me quite upset, angry if you will, about Notre Dame — the process of picking a Commencement speaker.

Let me begin by saying that I understand the term bureaucracy and I understand that Notre Dame is not immune to it, but the selection of the graduating class’ Commencement speaker each year occurring behind closed doors via a committee with little to no solicitation or feedback from the graduating class itself is outrageous to me. The last I checked Father Jenkins graduated from Notre Dame (undergraduate) in 1976; he is not the one being addressed in May. Now, I do not want this to turn into a “bash the President” session; the poor guy has gotten enough of that to hold him over for the rest of his term. But this does not go without saying that he has the final say in choosing the Commencement speaker.

Why are class members not contacted or consulted? It is, in fact, our Commencement. Should we not have a fairly large say in who is going to stand before us on the last day of our undergraduate careers to deliver a culminating, appropriate message? I think so. And frankly, I do not want to hear some guy talking about some important policy position, regardless of who it is, nor do I want another person talking about how much he or she did with their life and how I can do that if I just dream and believe. Instead, I would rather hear someone who is not only going to prevent me from falling asleep but someone who will actually relate what they are saying to the class and where we are in our lives. This is a speech to the class, not just one about the speaker.

That is why I propose that the commencement speaker for the soon to be graduating Class of 2011 be Ellen DeGeneres. Yes, you read that name right. I think Ellen, a college dropout herself, should give us the parting words in May.

How dare I not name a Catholic, right? I can already hear the chorus of complaints begin to trickle in because of the fact that Ellen is a lesbian, something that she unashamedly accepts and embraces. And the common thought seems to be that if you are not an upstanding Catholic who professes (but potentially does not practice) everything that the Church says, you are not qualified to address the students at the University of Notre Dame.

While that could not be more wrong, let me lay to rest this idea that Ellen does not act like a Catholic should, even though she may not label herself as one, or that her life story is suddenly not acceptable because she is homosexual. The time of uncertainty many of us are about to face is something Ellen can say “been there, done that” to. Where she is now can be attributed to the fact that she never took no as a finality, even though she may have heard it many more times than she preferred. To become one of the best in the business took hard work, courage and persistence. She failed at times but never failed ultimately.

She is now recognized as one of the best in the land in showbiz, particularly for her dancing. As you may know, her very popular show, Ellen, is a hit with many different types of people. But what she has been able to do with that show is even more of a hit to me. The care, concern and compassion she exhibits for people, particularly those going through rough times and those who just need a helping hand is amazing. The joy she brings to people is unmatched and the love she has for others, regardless of circumstance, is incredible. To top it off, the humbleness by which she does it all is praiseworthy. That, my friends, is an example of a Catholic — a compassionate, helpful, joyful woman who loves without any due praise expected in return.

Give her the label or not, she has a lot to teach us in such a short speech about what it means to live life to the fullest and just how to do that. And also very important, she is ridiculously hilarious. When she is speaking, you think of her as nothing more or less than someone speaking from the heart with a hint of humor that goes a long way. To watch her speak in Notre Dame Stadium on May 22, 2011, would not only be the best way to end my time here, but it would be one of the most fulfilling.

Kevin Kimberly is a senior majoring in psychology and political science. He is eligible to run for president in 2024 and welcomes campaign slogans and ideas at kkimberl@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.