An open letter to Fr. Jenkins
Eddie Damstra | Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Dear Fr. Jenkins,
I am very concerned by recent remarks you made insinuating that you might not invite President-elect Donald Trump to speak at the Commencement ceremony in May. As many people know, Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to speak at Notre Dame’s Commencement, and, with the exception of Bill Clinton, every president since Jimmy Carter has. It has become an established tradition at Notre Dame to offer the newly elected president a chance to speak to the graduating class. A decision to not invite Donald Trump to speak at Commencement would tarnish Notre Dame’s legitimacy as a bastion of intellectual discourse and contradict its long-lasting commitment to honoring the value of democracy and respecting elected leaders.
You said that you are “conscious that that day is for graduates and their parents” and that you “don’t want to make the focus something else.” However, I believe this is a dishonest justification for not inviting Donald Trump. If we are being entirely realistic, not inviting Donald Trump will also cause significant controversy and redirect attention from graduates and their families. Controversy did not stop you from rightly inviting President Barack Obama to speak at the 2009 Commencement ceremony. Notre Dame is not an institution that allows tradition and ideals to succumb to controversy or public perception. Rather, Notre Dame stands in the face of controversy to champion what it believes to be right.
I did not vote for Donald Trump. I did not support Donald Trump. I even wrote several articles in The Observer criticizing Donald Trump. However, I nevertheless believe Donald Trump should speak at Commencement in May. Inviting Trump to speak is not a blanket declaration of tolerance for the offensive remarks he made during his campaign. Just as inviting President Barack Obama was not a condoning of his positions on abortion, inviting Trump is not declaring agreement with all of the policies he has proposed or statements he has made. Rather, inviting Trump is embracing the virtue of open expression and holding high respect for the Executive Office of the President.
I criticized the decision last year to award Vice President Joe Biden the Laetare Medal, an award intended to honor an individual who displays outstanding service to the Church, because the vice president’s position on abortion and voting record in Congress directly contradicts Church doctrine. However, I was not against Joe Biden speaking at Notre Dame. Similarly, I do not have qualms about President Obama speaking at Commencement in 2009. I think welcoming elected public officials to speak is beneficial to the academic environment on a campus. In fact, I believe fostering discussion and encouraging intellectual debate should be the essential cornerstone of an institution of higher learning. What individual could be more cultivating of these aims than the president?
I write this letter with complete respect for you and an acknowledgement of the difficult decision you and the University have to make. I simply ask you to strongly consider the ramifications of not inviting Donald Trump. In a time where much of the nation is divided, not inviting Donald Trump to speak would only add to the tone of disunity plaguing our country.
With all this said, as a student of this University, I respectfully ask you to offer Donald Trump an invitation to be the speaker at Commencement in May.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.