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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

Graduating seniors: defend and resist

Although the graduating class of 2017 may have matured within our harsh hashtag digital age replete with anonymous and insensitive cyber bullying, society thrives when we stand on our principles while acting with grace and tolerance. As much as we banter how exceptional America might be — or how premier a Catholic university Notre Dame may claim — we fail as American Christians whenever we narrow our rhetoric and slight our neighbors. As Pope Francis has extolled throughout his papacy, the complexities of our world do not preclude our acting out of conscience in a respectful yet at times compromising manner.

What are the challenges graduates must face after departing their cocoon at Catholic Disneyland? Most of us may dream of Trump-resort opulence while managing a trailer-park budget. Dreams may mold the soul, but conduct chisels our character. Too often we take comfort in “belonging” while living near like-minded people while listening to like-minded philosophies and surviving our like-minded lives. Americans are greatest when we embrace our diversity, and Christians are true to the word when they tolerate others, especially whenever they avoid stubbornly judging others within their own religion.

Let’s face it, we each carry differing perceptions of the meanings behind the slick hashtags of “resist” or "Black Lives Matter” or any number of shorthand descriptions for positions and movements. With such varying acuities facing us daily, we can maintain personal principles without diminishing our opponents or completely discarding their discourse. Clutching to a black and white notion of the world without examining any shades of gray has polarized political discourse whether at home between Democrats and Republicans or internationally between Israelis and Palestinians. Dissolving those barriers may be as simple as adhering to a Judge Judy quip, “God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason!”

This column has previously noted the inconsistencies of some who officially represent Notre Dame or graduated from the University not as a way to solely criticize them, but to remind them that others hold a more inclusive approach or note an inconsistency in their actions. We oftentimes become passionately ensnared in the rhetoric of the moment while advocating a principle, but fail to maintain a dialogue with those we oppose. Many also profess allegiance to a cause but selectively embrace only the most convenient aspect of that principle. Two examples best showcase how easily one can defend and resist while acting exceptionally above the chatter.

Certainly Notre Dame alumnus and former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (ND ’76) allowed shadowy angels to guide him when he accepted a $6,000 Rolex watch and posed for pictures in a Ferrari convertible. While the optics of accepting these gifts alone may suggest corruption — which the Supreme Court found was not acceptance of a bribe in return for special considerations under the ethics rules of the time — it diminished the political reputation of McDonnell. However, as a staunch pro-life candidate against abortion, McDonnell permitted darker angels to pilot his gubernatorial duties when he refused to grant pro-life clemency and allowed a 41-year-old grandmother with a 72 IQ, Teresa Lewis, to be executed. For McDonnell, “pro-life” fundamentally meant that he could oppose abortion but ignore capital punishment or war deaths with indifference.

The call to be unique, premier or exceptional is one that steps away from the forest to see the trees without a plank in one’s eye. If defunding Planned Parenthood’s abortion procedure is the mission’s goal, do not shutter the facility without preserving the many beneficial health services the organization currently offers to poor women who have no other healthcare. This column challenged Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture about its rhetorical pro-life bluster against Planned Parenthood funding that failed to also demonstrate just how uniquely exceptional the University can march through its Catholic mission. A foremost cutting-edge leader like Notre Dame should consistently in one breath espouse its principle, but in the next breath also embrace efforts to correct the collateral inadequacies that may result from such actions. To remain mute according to the audience present seems disingenuous despite publicly supporting healthcare for the poor in other venues.

As seniors prepare for life in the “real world,” the universal graduation wish should be that time should never trap you and that the world should have time for you. Be stubborn in defending and resisting, but be civil, open and tolerant in listening. Never fall into a state of being I once heard someone say: “An open Bible means a closed mind.”

My suggestion for graduating seniors — whether you support the commencement speaker Vice President Pence or not — is to visually defend your principles without impolite disruption or raucous displays. I suggest that if you support Pence, wear a red “X” of electrician’s tape across the top of your mortarboard hat. If you oppose Pence, place a blue “X” with painter’s tape on the mortarboard. If you don’t give a damn, leave it blank. I cannot think of a more unique way to show the nation how premier graduates conduct themselves in a classy, exceptional way. Bonne chance.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.