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Petition urges University president not to invite next US president as Commencement speaker

| Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In the past, when a new U.S. president was elected, Notre Dame has extended an invitation for him to speak at the University’s Commencement ceremony in May.

This year, some Notre Dame seniors are asking University President Fr. John Jenkins to reconsider this tradition.

Senior Cody Devine wrote and published a petition on Change.org requesting that Jenkins and the University Board of Trustees not extend an invitation to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

Devine said he believes selecting either individual — whoever wins the presidential election — as Notre Dame’s Commencement speaker would be a discredit to the mission of the University.

“I believe this is important because this institution is unlike the other institutions in — arguably — the world,” he said. “It stands for something that is more than just the pursuit of knowledge, and it stands for something that is more than just the pursuit of our faith.

“It is a great intersection of those two ideas. And I think a lot of other institutions either don’t try to emulate or can’t.”

The petition is not a political statement, Devine said. That’s why he plans to remove it from the website and send it to Jenkins before the election is decided.

“I think few people would argue that this election is truthful, honest — or say it has integrity, it’s faith-filled. I think those things are understood that this election is not,” he said.

The petition has 64 signatures, though not all of them are from members of the Class of 2017. It has been shared on Facebook and promoted by word of mouth.

Devine said he decided to write the petition after talking with senior Amanda Janouch, who had been discussing the topic with her friends.

“We want — or at least I, personally, would like — the main focus of Commencement to be on accomplishments and what we’ve done here at Notre Dame over these past four years, without all of this controversy that’s going to come if one of these candidates comes and speaks,” Janouch said.

Janouch said she has friends who work in the University’s Student Phone Center and still hear angry remarks from alumni about the selection of President Barack Obama as the 2009 Commencement speaker.

Distractions aside, Devine said he doesn’t think many people questioned Obama’s personal integrity. The same, he argued, could not be said about this year’s candidates.

“People disagree vehemently with Obama about a host of issues,” Devine said. “But they still respect him as a person. They respect him as president. I think we’re lacking that with these candidates.”

Obama was the sixth U.S. president to speak at a Notre Dame Commencement ceremony. He was preceded by Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Still, many seniors are asking the same question: Wouldn’t it be cool to have the U.S. president at graduation?

Janouch said she sees their point — but still thinks other speakers could make the Commencement experience more special to graduates.

“I feel like if we can get the President of the United States to come here, then we can also get someone else who’s of that caliber who might not cause as much controversy — and might do a better job of celebrating what we’ve done here,” she added.

Ultimately, Devine said he sees the University as a role model for other institutions around the world.

“This University — and its position as a great model of Catholic higher education — cannot serve in a reactionary role,” Devine said. “It has to be a proponent of the good that the mission of this University teaches its students, and that the students go out into the world and emulate.”

“It has to be a proponent of those values,” he added. “To be a proponent, you sometimes have to stand above the fray.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, The Observer's former Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's an ex-Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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