Thu, 14 May 2009 20:43:36 +0000 – By Andrew NesiUWire.com, Senior, Notre Dame University
My education at Notre Dame has been informed by the the social, political and Catholic controversies that we consistently witness and participate in. Notre Dame is supposed to be the place where the Catholic Church in America does its thinking. And whether it's a production of the "Vagina Monologues," Notre Dame's non-discrimination clause -- which doesn't include sexual orientation -- or white crosses commemorating aborted fetuses on the Quad every year, a thinking Church has been controversial and, at times, vitriolic.
Notre Dame has forced me to realize that the dichotomy between being "Catholic" and being a "University" is false. We don't have to pick one. Notre Dame serves it's Catholic mission by living its university mission.
Graduation is not a time to celebrate the end of our education. It's a day to continue it. That's why Notre Dame's community needs to embrace the idea that President Obama should be welcome to speak before our graduating class. But that's also why Notre Dame needs to welcome the scores of protesters, opinion pieces, and anti-Obama public statements by professors, alumni, and, most importantly, seniors alike.
To silence either side would be to undermine the experience of unique education that Notre Dame has given my classmates for four years and fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between being Catholic and being a university.
Nobody should be embarrassed by the presence of a pro-choice politician on our graduation stage, nor should they be embarrassed by the calls to keep a pro-choice politician off our stage. Students shouldn't view protesters as "hijacking" our graduation. Yes, I want protesters yelling at me on the day of my graduation because Notre Dame has taught me that to avoid this engagement -- visceral as it may be -- is to lack strength in my own convictions.
This isn't an empty paean to relativism and tolerance. I have no problem picking a "right" side: of course President Obama should speak at my graduation. I, like many of my fellow graduates, believe in most of the things he stands for. What's more, his appearance has done precisely what it should -- prompt dialogue about abortion, and the proper Catholic response to legalized abortion.
Granted, that engagement hasn't happened with the president himself. But it has happened in and around campus, in formal and informal settings, in the media, and even in the Vatican, which, almost certainly as a response to the Notre Dame controversy, recently released an op-ed suggesting that Obama has been relatively good on life issues. His appearance, even before it has happened, has already been educational and prompted productive thought about abortion.
But the anti-Obama activists have been critical to that dialogue, too. Welcoming all to Notre Dame's campus and allowing this critical Catholic debate to play out in South Bend is not just numb tolerance -- it's an all-too-rare opportunity to live out the mission of this university in a prominent, public way.
On both sides, this is Notre Dame at her best -- actively navigating the role of the Church in education, and the role of religion in a world too often ignorant of its extraordinary power for good and for evil.
Notre Dame should welcome organized, graphic protests outside and they should be in a location where students, guests, and, yes, even the media can't miss them.
We should welcome it when kids skip graduation, as they have promised, or when they turn their backs to the president and boo, as some inevitably will.
We should welcome parents, scholars and bishops to denounce the very existence of the speech as embarrassing and un-Catholic.
But for the same reason, we should welcome President Obama to stand at the podium and speak to the Notre Dame community.
We should welcome John T. Noonan, a pro-life Catholic and appellate court judge, to stand next to him and speak.
We should welcome Notre Dame to retake its rightful position as a public place where the Church does its thinking.
I'll walk at graduation proud, armed with the knowledge that the circus around me is exactly what makes my university so important, and so special.
Andrew Nesi, is a senior a Notre Dame majoring in American Studies major from Fairfield, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.