With more grace, tact, and diplomacy than the other principals managed to display this week, President Obama delivered his commencement address today to Notre Dame’s Class of 2009.
The controversy surrounding his appearance had risen to fever pitch. A pro-choice advocate was going to speak at the nation’s preeminent Catholic university! (Gasp!) University supporters were vocal but divided. Anti-abortion advocates flocked in from across the country to exploit the opportunity for publicity. The media were positively salivating over the whole thing.
The president did not disappoint. He could have bowed out of his commitment, but he didn’t. He could have avoided mentioning the controversy, but he didn’t. With characteristic aplomb and just the right amount of humor, he honored both his commitment and his audience.
He probably didn’t change any minds about the abortion issue and he admitted that the two sides will probably never be reconciled. At the same time he spoke in conciliatory tones about the need to find common ground — in this case, reducing the number of abortions in America — and work together; to stop “reducing those with differing views to caricature,” to speak with “open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words.”
The student body did themselves proud. They were respectful and warm. The few shouted interruptions appeared to come from spectators, not from the students on the floor, and were drowned out by students chanting “We are ND.” Only about ten students reportedly walked out during the speech.
What a pity that so many outside the event — the angry alums, the demonstrators with their obscene posters, the outraged petitioners, the ravenous press — did not conduct themselves with a fraction of the maturity and dignity displayed today by the president and the Notre Dame graduates.
Congratulations, Notre Dame graduates. Congratulations, Mr. President. Well done!