Recently, I found myself uncharacteristically glued to the
television on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to observe the
graduation ceremonies taking place at the University of Notre
Dame. To be sure, I was interested to see how President Obama
would be received as an honorary degree recipient and the
keynote speaker in light of all the controversy that had been
sparked by his invitation from this eminent university. I was
pleased to see that the ceremonies went smoothly with little
disruption. However, I was inspired by Notre Dame's example of
the amazing power of higher education.
Jenkins, President of Notre Dame introduced President Obama,
he spoke of the importance of talking to those who differ with
us. He brought attention to the Second Vatican Council's call
for respect, courtesy and love "for those who think or act
differently than we do in social, political and even religious
President Obama urged Americans to consider the views of
others with "open hearts, open minds and fair-minded words."
He acknowledged that students are entering an uncertain and
troubled world but was hopeful that, "one of the benefits of
the wonderful education you have received is that you have had
time to consider these wrongs in the world, and grown
determined, each in your own way, to right them. And yet, one
of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting
greater understanding and cooperation among people is the
discovery that even bringing together persons of good will,
men and women of principle and purpose, can be difficult.
"Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort?
As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we
engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in
our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without
demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the
other side? Remain open, and curious, and eager to continue
the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you
within the walls of Notre Dame."
That Sunday afternoon reinforced my personal vision that a
university must provide a diversity of skills to navigate a
complex world. In these troubled economic times, parents are
rightly concerned as to how the college years will lay the
groundwork for building a career that will lead to financial
security. They may question the value of a liberal arts
education. For some, studying philosophy, history, literature,
world religions, sciences and languages may seem superfluous.
However, it is studies in disciplines such as these that give
us the tools to live in a larger world, that have enabled the
2009 Notre Dame graduates to accept the challenges set forth
by Father Jenkins and President Obama.
A college education, at its best, allows students to think
about the world, where it has been, where it is now, and where
it might be going. It allows young people to be open to new
ideas, to discover themselves and their place in this world. I
do not minimize the importance of preparing for a career, but
I am ever hopeful that the preparation will include studies in
the humanities that will lead to greater understandings of
those, as Father Jenkins stated, "who think or act differently
than we do in social, political and even religious matters."
As my students in the Class of 2009 go off to college, I
hope they will have "the benefit of an extraordinary
education" - such as President Obama described the education
received by the graduating class at Notre Dame - at the
college of their choice. I look to them to graduate
enlightened citizens of the world ready to make it a far
better place. Indeed, that is my hope for each of the students
I am fortunate enough to guide.