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May 17th, 2009
08:11 PM ET

My take on the President's commencement address and the controversy leading up to it

The first roar in the Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame today set a tone. If you were watching our live coverage starting at 2 p.m. Eastern today, you know what I mean.

During the commencement ceremony for Notre Dame’s class of 2009, expectations were high. High that someone or many would audibly or silently express discontent with the invited guest speaker, the President of the United States Barack Obama. After all, three weeks of staged protests near and on the South Bend, Indiana, campus preceded to this day.

So when the 6’2" robed president strode into the building and that roar I spoke of filled the room, it wasn’t immediately clear to me, from our Atlanta-based news set, what the sound meant. Not until the live cameras revealed a crowd on their feet, clapping, people smiling. Hmm, maybe all the pre-commencement protest is just that, pre-commencement.

Not so fast.

The president had barely received his honorary law degree and was just minutes into his speech as the keynote, when again, big sounds filled the room. Aha, sounds like a voice of dissent. But in a room of thrilled grads and their equally thrilled loved ones, a different but equally overwhelming roar attempted to quiet, but not necessarily silence, that apparent voice of dissension.

Regardless of the conflicting views held by any of the analysts I interviewed, the grads, their loved ones, the U.S. President or the University President...THE TONE of this commencement was made clear.

2009 grads WOULD still have their moment. Despite any dissension, disagreement or disruptions, this WOULD be a memorable day.

Click the picture to view the President's entire speech at Notre Dame.

Filed under: Anchors • Fredricka Whitfield
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Kathleen Thornton

    You gotta give President Obama credit for his handling of a controversial issue while giving the graduates their due. Bravo! He handled himself as I knew he would-with style, with grace, with intelligence and with the leadership this country so desperately needs. He continues to prove that America made the right choice on election day!

    May 17, 2009 at 9:01 pm |
  2. Charles In Charlotte

    Hello Fredricka
    I think that you did a great job in covering president Obama's Commencement Speech at Notre Dame. I think that the gentleman sitting behind the president's right shoulder on stage should have been removed. His body language and non responses sent a clear message, unless he was physically disable. He did not applaud one time during the ceremony. Too bad some academecians are so narrow minded.

    May 17, 2009 at 9:47 pm |
  3. Elizabeth Vanneste

    Thank you CNN for airing President Obama's and Father Jenkins remarks today. I have never been more proud to be part of the Notre Dame family than I was today!

    Now if only the anchors hadn't gotten Father Jenkins and the Provost, Tom Burish mixed up....

    May 17, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  4. Max

    My cousin Steve, better known as Don Black, will be supporting Newt in our next election. please take back america's values. Support Newt, a good man and a friend to all christian white folks. Newt was a member of our plight as a young man, and has always been a man of honor.

    May 17, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  5. Nefira Mada

    I was initially proud to think some of our country's best students would have the Honor of having the President giving the commencement speach at ND. Then, because of all the hype, and controversy which had no right to be perpetuated to begin with. The speech went from inspiring young people to go out in the world and do the right things in their lives, and to inspire others, to a political statement... Abortion has no place in a school commencement, nor in the government. Here he combines them, simply because of all the hype created. For all these protesters know, they caused the issue to be raised, and wasn't in the origional speech.
    Frankly I am insulted on the behalf of all the students' whose commencement was ruined by protesters causing all this rediculous hooplah.
    This is the first time that Mister Obama has insulted my intelligence, and I am certain it won't be the last. I didn't vote for him, but I was glad that he won. I am hoping in the future that he will do better, than to feed into others propaganda.

    May 18, 2009 at 10:13 am |
  6. Kay Ann Davison

    I was so proud of him, he is "OUR PRESIDENT"!

    May 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm |
  7. warren turner

    barack obama change you can believe in im layed off and my father is losing health insurance due to a plant closing our government is run by a bunch of self searving morons ( pelosi ) as a example hillary and bill thieves and liers

    May 18, 2009 at 3:43 pm |
  8. Thomas

    There is no common ground regarding abortion. To suggest otherwise demonstrates what many Catholics view as President Obama's profoundly perplexing disconnect intellectually/scientifically and spiritually (as a Christian) regarding this essential life and death issue, and his obvious intelligence and character otherwise. It is impossible to reconcile his forceful stance on torturing enemy combatants and his support of tearing an innocent human being apart in it's mother's womb or during a full term birthing process. I could not disagree with him more fervently on this one issue. Having said that, the President conducted himself honestly, respectfully, and courteously in a difficult situation. It was ND which knowingly created this controversy and brought scandal to the Church, not the President. Perhaps it is time for ND to consider disassociating itself from the Church whose moral and social teachings it chooses to disrespect or challenge. The US is a democracy, and President Obama can and should honestly present his views for public debate. The Catholic Church is a monarchy, and Christ is the King; if ND does not value or agree with Her teachings and views, it should remove itself from Catholicism rather than hypocritically misrepresenting and challenging the Church while bringing scandal to Her. It is inconceivable that ND would invite a powerfully pro-abortion speaker to it's campus to address it's students and honor with a degree. To do so signifies him as someone for Catholics to emulate or honor, and I'm afraid this 'one issue' is grave enough to prevent any such demonstrative accommodation or accolades by a Catholic institution. This is not a personal slight toward the President, but a profound struggle against his views on abortion and his actions to support it in this country. Protests were certainly appropriate and unavoidable-protests against ND by Catholics. They should have ceased during the President's visit, he was invited as an honored guest whose views on abortion were well known to ND, and 'he' did not betray his own beliefs or stated values by being there. The protests should continue now and until ND determines whether it is a Catholic university, and all that entails, or not. Perhaps the USCCB can help them out regarding this basic quandary. If a Yeshiva served roasted pork at it's graduation, would anyone blame the pig....with or without lipstick applied? Absolutely no disrespect intended toward the President.

    May 18, 2009 at 6:37 pm |
  9. Fred L Tonelli

    Hi Fredricka,
    I watched most of your coverage ( after returning from a baseball tournament ) and I was so very proud of how you moderated the guest speakers. And now knowing that your dad ( or, should I say, 'Superdad' ) is not only a former Olympian but also one of those famous airmen that I had previously read about, I can only imagine how proud he must have been! As merely one baptized Catholic among millions, I am not one of those who speaks in with any moral authority for the Church. I do believe that the words of those who have been given such authority should be heeded. I can't ignore the words and actions of those who protested peacefully and prayerfully at the graduation last Sunday, nothwithstanding my admiration for your 44th President. Without diminishing the seriousness of those who objected to the idea of his being so honored, I would say only this : God respected Saul of Tarsus's freedom...freedom is a most essenital & vital ingredient of Faith! But Faith is also a gift that cannot be earned. That's the mystery of it, in my view. I congratulate you for moderating a respectful discussion and not backing down to any one side.

    May 19, 2009 at 3:43 pm |
  10. Kenneth Walton

    Fredrica, You did an outstanding job covering the President at Notre Dame! I was so happy to see you take charge and not let that one talking head get away with his obvious nonsense. I wish you were on during the week because sometimes CNN is hard to watch because they let these hate mongers go unchecked in the face of their obvious motives.

    I am very proud of our historic President, and I am very proud of you as well. You are both doing an outstanding job! There are those of us out here who see whats going on even though an attempt is made to silence us:)

    Thanks again. I will be watching.

    May 20, 2009 at 5:16 pm |
  11. Kenneth Walton

    The Lord whom these catholics claim to represent says judge not less you be judged...they ignore that....He says let he who is without sin cast the first stone...they ignore that...He said call no man on earth your father...they ignore that...Jesus said no man comes to the Father except by me...they ignore that by praying to saints.

    Proverbs 29:2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked rule, the people mourn. The people of the world mourned for the last eight years, and the people of the world are rejoicing now. Enough said.

    May 20, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  12. Kenneth Walton

    Does someone else write the news for the anchors to report? What is with these negative questions after everything the President does? Who writes for Wolf? It always has a negative spin against the President. I also notice the still pictures they choose to show. This President is doing so outstanding that the envy of him is evident. He will continue to jump every hurdle while cleaning up the past administrations mess.

    May 20, 2009 at 6:06 pm |
  13. Gil

    It is evident that CNN business model is to remain neutral while MSNBC and FOXNews are left and right. But I find it appalling this weekend that the people who write the news for you to read would refer to the President as Mr. Obama. Yet referring to Dick Cheney as the Vice President and George Bush as President. These are Former !!!! Is this lack of respect and indiference is because President Obama is a black man?

    May 25, 2009 at 12:14 am |
  14. Kay Ann Davison

    I think he is doing a great job so far, if the nut's will give him a chance!

    September 7, 2009 at 10:25 am |

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