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Thoughts on Commencement

| Thursday, March 9, 2017

We live in a divided age, a divided world and a much divided country.  The United States has perhaps not been this polarized since the Civil War.  Not since those bloody five years were the American people so divided on an issue that they vehemently rejected the results of the presidential election, denied that he who was elected was “their President,” and resorted to widespread violence and bloodshed in an effort to be “free.”  Fortunately, we are not yet at the same degree of conflict, but we may be more divided than at any time since. For 150 years afterwards, people have argued, they have disagreed and they have protested.  In the end, however, they respected the rule of law, and they respected the office of President, even if they disliked the one who occupied it.

These days seem long forgotten. The issues have certainly changed in 150 years, but the conflict cuts almost as deep for both sides. In the wake of perhaps the most controversial election in American history, we have an attitude of “it’s my way or the highway.” We have forgotten that this nation was built on compromise and cooperation. We have forgotten how to “love our enemies,” and respect them enough to work together. We can no longer even listen the voices of those who disagree, for they are loathsome to us, and it is this mentality that is causing so many people to vehemently oppose Mike Pence coming to speak at Commencement this May.  They see him as the enemy, and think that the invitation means that the University supports all of his political opinions, including those seen as hateful and anti-Catholic.

Have we forgotten that we faced the same issue — though perhaps on a smaller scale — eight years ago?  Those who protested Barack Obama speaking at Commencement now support Mike Pence being invited (or else wish that Donald Trump was invited), and those who supported Obama now protest Pence. The truth is, however, that both had opinions that were contrary to Catholic teaching, but they were invited out of respect for their offices.  When I heard about the divide eight years ago, I supported the University’s decision to invite President Obama to speak. I may not have agreed with him, but I respected the office of President, and in the end, that is what the point of the invitation was. The University stood on the principle of inviting the President, no matter who it was, and no matter what policies they supported. If I were graduating this year and Hillary Clinton had been elected in November, I would have gone to graduation and listened to her speak, even though I disagree with her politically. In the end, the invitation is about respect for the presidency and the government, and about allowing the speaker to offer knowledge and advice to the graduates. It is not about any of their political opinions, which most likely will not be mentioned in their speeches. And even if they are, if we cannot even listen to an opinion contrary to our own, are we not being as intolerant as we accuse “the enemy” of being?

We may never know for certain whether the University did not invite President Trump, or they invited him and he declined. If he wasn’t invited, I am mildly disappointed that the University did not stand on principle, but I understand why. Donald Trump has proven a very polarizing figure in our country, and his presence would have taken focus away from the graduating class; the focus of Commencement should always be on the graduates. I myself have disagreed with many of his recent decisions. I think that Pence is a good compromise, and the fact that he is a practicing Christian and a native of Indiana makes him an even better choice. To those who still disagree with the decision to invite him, I ask you not to focus on what “hurtful” things he has said and focus on the fact that you have the privilege to hear the Vice President of the United States speak at your graduation. Take this as an opportunity to hear a different perspective, and to gain new understanding. If you still disagree with what he says, that is okay, as long as you gave him chance.

Many of you may disagree with everything I have just said, and some of you may even want to write a counterpoint. That is your right, and I do not begrudge you of it. But before you do, think about the issue. Look beyond the surface, the rhetoric and the divide. Try to see every side, and try to understand where I, the University and other supportive students are coming from. If you can do this, then by all means, write a counterpoint, or argue with me in person. That is the first step in healing the political divide — we must engage in discussion and civil discourse, and we must listen to our opponents, rather than avoiding them and branding them as “the enemy.”

I am a little disappointed that I am not graduating the year after an election. For those who are, you have an opportunity to hear one of the leaders of our country speak to you. I hope that you will take it. Whether you disagree with the speaker on everything or agree with them wholeheartedly, you have an opportunity to see beyond the filters of media and make a judgement based on your own ears and eyes. In the end, new opportunity is what makes graduation so special.

Andrew Poirier is a junior, double-majoring in mechanical engineering and theatre.  He is a native of Evans, Georgia and a resident of Siegfried Hall. In addition to occasionally debating politics, he enjoys reading, building Legos, FTT sets and robots, and doing his best to finish homework in time to get decent sleep.

This viewpoint represents the views of the author and not necessarily those of BridgeND.

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

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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  • Gunnar Anderson

    People were just as divided by Obama. Conservatives were less vocal however after his election than liberals are now, however, for the following reasons: 1) To voice openly disagreement with Obama would have resulted in being called a racist by the left. 2) The Silent Majority by it’s nature is less strident and fond of protest than the far left in any event. 3) Conservatives tend to be older, and frankly, wiser and better behaved than college age voters.

    Obama divided us by class. He repeated accused the wealthy of not payig their “fair share”, a bitter pill for many and also a lie, when in fact the upper 10% of Americans pay virtually all of our income taxes, and the lower 50% contribute zero or negative zero (meaning they get a handout at tax time via the Earned Income Tax Credit). Young iblerals tend to only see emotional issues, because they are not income tax payers (you many have had jobs where you paid SS taxes, but you simply don’t earn enough to pay income tax). For college students, issues such as women’s rights, race, and sexual identity are the most important issues because they simply have not yet participated in the workforce. Issues such as national security, jobs, and the economy are a smaller blip on their radar screen.

    Voicing your opnion is fine. However, screaming because you lost the election is not appropriate. The right has had to endure 8 long years under Obama where they felt the economy and future of America were being destroyed, and that socialism would eventually be the end and terrible result, with America following the long downward economic death spiral via socialism already experienced by Greece, Italy Spain and France. Their dismay at that time was as great as yours is now, they just behaved better when defeated. Grow up.

  • Rohan

    At some point, we have to draw the line. Tradition does not override hatred and bigotry. As an alum, I am so disappointed by this decision.

    • Gunnar Anderson

      Wanting secure borders IS NOT HATRED, as much as liberals want it to be.

      • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

        The Native Americans should have had secure borders to prevent your ancestors from committing genocide.

        • killshot

          The Huron, Aztecs, and Ojibwe INVENTED genocide. Plz buy a vowel if not a clue.

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            Brain not found.

          • killshot

            Try some responses with actualy content next time. Does PB stand for Pajama Boy?

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            Wow, did you get triggered? Are you a murderer? Why aren’t you in jail?

          • killshot

            Again, brilliant content. You should be on Rachel Maddow, hahahahaha.

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            Where are you, on FOX News?

    • killshot

      “Hatred and bigotry”? Really? Not a shred of evidence, mate. Oh, and plz let us know which US laws we will then selectively enforce. Look the other way for illegals or leave the guy who does not want to do a wedding cake for a homosexual marriage alone? Then let me know how we work all that out. Right.

      • Alum

        HA! way to be out of touch with reality.

        I guess it’s not bigotry when Pence said that marriage equality would lead to “societal collapse,” and called homosexuality “a choice.” Stopping gays from marrying wasn’t biased, he said, but was rather about compelling “God’s idea.”

        I guess it’s not bigotry when he signed the anti-LGBT religious bill in Indiana in 2015.

        I suppose that supporting the tyrant that is Vladimir Putin isn’t bigotry either.

        I could go on, but I suppose that these, “shreds” of evidence are clearly too miniscule for you to believe?

        • killshot

          So all of Islam is bigoted because they do not believe in homosexual marriage? His religious beliefs are not consistent with yours…get over it. Many still believe that homosexuality is indeed a choice ultimately. Have you even read what Francis said? Tolerance and love, but it is still a poor choice. And “supporting Putin”? Really? How? Evidence? Oh, right.

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            Yes, Muslim homophobes are bigots. Of course not all Muslims (unlike whatever generalizations you make) are homophobes, but the ones who oppose same-sex marriage are, by definition, homophobes.
            Pope Francis didn’t say that homosexuality was a choice (even though he still has some homophobic points of view, though not as bad as Pence).
            And Pence supports Drumpf, who by its turn supports Putin. Do you need a drawing?

  • killshot

    Well done. But please do tell me exactly what Pence positions are “anti-Catholic”? Or at least as or more “anti-Catholic” as former President Obama’s?

    • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

      When was Obama “anti-Catholic”? Last time I checked he didn’t ban people from countries with a Catholic majority.

  • How bogus to spout “healing” and ask Pence to speak. Out of all the people available to Notre Dame you choose Pence? Disappointed in and embarrassed by my alma mater. Class of ’69.

    • killshot

      Well, that is certainly your right to be disappointed. But many alumni of our era actually applaud it though are disappointed in the general direction of the university in recent (Jenkins) years. In the end du lac will survive a president who names $20M buildings after themselves while they are still working.