Barack Obama will give commencement speeches at the U.S. Naval Academy, Arizona State, and the University of Notre Dame this year. The Naval Academy has received the news with little dispute, and Arizona State actually moved its ceremony to accommodate the president.
But when the president isn't sticking it to a certain Naval Academy graduate and Arizona senator, he's riling the Catholic community at Notre Dame. Critics say that Obama's honorary degree is an affront to the school's Catholic teachings, citing the president's stances on abortion, gay rights, and embryonic stem cell research. Groups like the Cardinal Newman Society and the Pro-Life Action League have encouraged all Catholics to flood the university with phone calls and to sign online petitions (which have tens of thousands of signatures already).
The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, defended the choice, saying that it has been a standing tradition to invite the U.S. president to speak and that he was "honored" that Obama accepted the invitation.
"The invitation of President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues," Jenkins said. "We invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him. You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade, and if you cannot persuade them, show respect for them and listen to them."