President Barack Obama, then the junior senator from Illinois, gave the commencement address at Wesleyan University last May. Now that he's president, controversy is surrounding his potential commencement visit to Notre Dame, a Catholic university.
For those of you who attended a college or university, can you remember who your commencement speaker was? Notre Dame's Class of 2009 won't have to be reminded if Barack Obama, the first African-American U.S. President, comes to campus.
They'll also remember the verbal brawl taking place in media everywhere surrounding his invitation.
In keeping with tradition, the private Catholic school in northern Indiana extended an invitation to the newly-elected President to speak at its commencement and receive an honorary degree in May.
"The problem is that you have a Catholic university—the flagship Catholic university—do something that brought extreme embarrassment to many, many people who are Catholic," Cardinal George said at a conference Saturday, reports WBBM 780. "Whatever else is clear, it is clear that Notre Dame didn't understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation."
The Notre Dame administration is coming under fire from Catholics who are upset with Obama's expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research and his stance on abortion.
"Whether you're for or against," he said, "the decision to invite him is morphing into kind of an X-ray of where everybody stands in the Catholic Church."
Notre Dame has had five presidential commencement speakers: Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. A commencement ceremony celebrates performance and achievement, so the person who holds the highest office in the country would be an appropriate guest.
However, the school is also dedicated to its Catholic principles, one of which is the dedication to human life. Many Catholics, including Notre Dame alumni and several bishops, feel that awarding President Obama with an honorary degree implies that the historic university condones or endorses his controversial political views.
But not all Catholics agree. Rev. Bill Zavaski, pastor of St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, understands what an honor it would be for the graduating students.
"He is the President, after all, and there are a number of things he could speak on that could inspire the students in the right way," he told the Daily Herald. "But I don't know. The university is in a tough position."
Where does Notre Dame draw the line between "Catholic" and "university?" Being Catholic, the school is dedicated to defending Catholic doctrine. However, as a university, it is their duty to encourage academic freedom, where all voices and viewpoints are invited.
Are protestors truly protecting their God, or are they protecting their self-interests?
Are graduating students, who have signed petitions to keep President Obama, entitled to the most inspirational speaker of their generation, or should they be bound by the Catholic morals of the school they voluntarily attend?
Whatever happens, it will be a memorable graduation for the Class of 2009.
Matt Bartosik, editor of Off the Rocks
next issue and "between blogs" blogger, sometimes wishes he could go back to college and find a message in dry-erase pen on the