«Notre Dame Commencement, 2010»


To: The Rev. John I. Jenkins, President
From: 2010 Commencement Speaker Search Committee
Subject: Next Year’s Honoree

First, sir, our warmest congratulations! As you are aware, Notre Dame Commencement 2009 set a dauntingly high bar to match at next year’s ceremonies.

It’s hard to imagine a speaker with more headline appeal than the president – let alone this president! Or any speaker more inimical to certain of what Rome calls our “fundamental moral principles.” Even so, after careful and prayerful consideration, we respectfully submit a candidate – perhaps the one and only candidate! – who can take our 2010 Commencement to the next level.

To get there, however, we must prepare ourselves for a certain amount of misguided public opposition. In the hope of containing that opposition more successfully than in 2009, we submit this memo in advance of contacting our prospective Speaker.


We offer the following preliminary suggestions for heading potential adversaries off at the pass; more systematic briefing books can be drawn up by the theology and philosophy departments.

Emphasize that those dissenting from our choice do not know Scripture.

Stress what opponents conveniently forget – Our Lord himself engaged in dialogue with our prospective Speaker.

Opponents will doubtless observe that this engagement consisted mainly of commands such as “Get thee hence!”, “Come out of the man!” and similar injunctions ostensibly at odds with the development of a sustainable and continuing respectful conversation. But such failure to dialogue, we submit, was typical of relations between our prospective Speaker and religious believers two thousand years ago. As a historical artifact, it should no more constrain us in 2010 than any other practice historically specific to the time, such as fasting or prayer.

Second, we should use public venues to continue casting doubt on our opponents’ simplistic understanding of the Bible.

When they point to “Thou shalt not kill,” for example, we should not let them leave matters there. After all, the Bible is a living document. Future scholarly exegesis may turn up important qualifiers that translators have missed, such as “unless thou art somewhat black, charismatic, and capable of the name recognition guaranteed to keep donor dollars flowing in during a difficult economic time,” to name just one possibility.

In sum and properly understood, the Scriptures are full of rhetorical opportunities to dispel any suggestion that our opponents have a monopoly on textual truth.

Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

It is also imperative to emphasize that those protesters fail to understand the many benefits to date of our university’s previous engagements and outreach to those with whom we may not fully agree.

We dialogued, for example, with Mario Cuomo via his famous 1984 lecture, in which he explained that “the Catholic Church’s actions with respect to the interplay of religious values and public policy make clear that there is no inflexible moral principle which determines what our political conduct should be.” Following that lecture and thanks to our efforts to engage him, Mr. Cuomo experienced a radical public transformation and went on to become one of the global leaders of the pro-life movement – “Mother Teresa on the Hudson,” as he is fondly known. Okay, maybe not. But at least he did not become any more pro-abortion than he already was!

Similarly, the university’s courageous decision last year to allow “The Vagina Monologues” to be staged on campus despite student protests may yet bear lasting fruit. Certain of its scenes, particularly those of lesbian seduction and child rape, concentrated our students’ minds wonderfully on “Vita, Dulcedo, Spes,” our university motto. As we know, learning through such conversation is a two-way street; you will be pleased to know that the standing speech committee continues its efforts behind the scenes at changing the title someday to “The Vagina Dialogues.”

Finally, there are the extraordinarily beneficial consequences of our engagement with President Obama.

It is true, as opponents point out, that he lifted the ban on stem-cell experimentation, ensured that U.S. dollars would again flow to support abortion around the world, appointed as number two in the Justice Department a lawyer known for defending pornographers, appointed as head of HHS the most pro-abortion governor in America, declared his willingness to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, effectively implementing abortion on demand, and otherwise acted in ways perhaps not perfectly congruent with Christian moral teaching.

Then again, critics should be asked, how much worse might President Obama be if he weren’t in dialogue with us? (We have no immediate answer and have delegated the question to our Subcommittee on Sophistry for further study – but the rhetorical question is effective in and of itself.)

In sum, the cynics who argue that Notre Dame can only squander its moral capital by honoring those who fundamentally disagree with the Church are gravely ignorant of the extraordinary spiritual effects of our dialoguing with critics to date.


On the logistical side, there is some confusion about the best snail mail address for our prospective Speaker. We know that he has residences in New York, San Francisco, Pyongyang, Amsterdam, and other major cities, as well as dilatory domiciles from Darfur to the Khyber Pass. He also uses a variety of names from the familiar (“Old Scratch,” “Baal,” “Lord of the Flies”) to the obscure. Thus, we recommend that you contact him via the Internet, where he is apparently ubiquitous.

One final note: we are also pleased to report that our Speaker’s unique dietary needs need not inhibit dialogue either. As is explained in the welcome packet we are preparing, South Bend has a Planned Parenthood just a short walk from campus.

In all, the stars seem wonderfully aligned for this ultimate engagement across the bridge of ideas. It will also make for an especially interesting event among our faculty – particularly those who don’t yet believe our prospective Speaker even exists!

Respectfully submitted, your 2010 CSSC Chairperson

Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt is a Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute and holds the Panula Chair at the Catholic Information Center. This column is adapted from her introduction to Judge Conrad at his book talk on December 13, 2021.



The Catholic Thing Daily Email

Receive columns each morning about events in the Church and the world.

  • Join the 50k+ subscribers who receive The Catholic Thing's daily email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

 Join the 50k+ subscribers who receive The Catholic Thing's daily email

The Catholic Thing Daily Email

Receive columns each morning about events in the Church and the world.

  • Join the 50k+ subscribers who receive The Catholic Thing's daily email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

 Join the 50k+ subscribers who receive The Catholic Thing's daily email