Notre Dame’s 2020 Commencement Speaker: Donald J. Trump


May 24, 2019

No, this is not a press release. I’ll leave that to Notre Dame’s communications office. Rather, it’s a simple statement and assumption of the obvious. I wanted to be the first to hog the honor of announcing it.

President Donald Trump will be Notre Dame’s commencement speaker next year, a presidential campaign year no less.

No, I’m not privy to any discussions. I have no board or faculty affiliation with Notre Dame. I’m not an alum. I’ve spoken there only twice.

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I am, however, a mere mortal who tries to operate according to logic. That being the case, I think we all can be certain that President Donald Trump will be the commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame in 2020. How so?

As Notre Dame’s progressives asserted when the university took the shocking step of inviting Barack Obama to be its commencement speaker in 2009—a blatantly pro-abortion politician and president—this is simply what Notre Dame does: namely, invite the sitting president, as standard protocol, to be the commencement speaker. Even though Barack Obama pursued aggressive policies in flagrant contravention of longstanding Roman Catholic Church teaching—well, it was okay, since Notre Dame invites presidents regardless of ideology or party.

Some might argue that this was 2009, before Obama launched vulgar policies such as the HHS Mandate, which was such an affront to Catholic institutions that no less than Notre Dame would be forced to join the flurry of lawsuits against the Obama administration to protect their religious freedom. No, no. Barack Obama was Barack Obama well before that. He had long been notoriously bad on abortion, and yet Notre Dame honored him regardless, in direct defiance of USCCB guidelines: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Fr. John Jenkins ignored the bishops’ guidelines, even as he openly acknowledged Obama’s lousy position on abortion. He insisted that the invitation to Obama was an act of charity and goodwill. In a May 11, 2009, letter to Notre Dame graduates, he said that Notre Dame must be a place “where people of good will are received with charity, are able to speak, be heard, and engage in responsible and reasoned dialogue.”

“Ultimately I hope that the conversations and the good will that come from this day will contribute to closer relations between Catholics and public officials who make decisions on matters of human life and human dignity,” stated Jenkins. “I am saddened that many friends of Notre Dame have suggested that our invitation to President Obama indicates ambiguity in our position on matters of Catholic teaching.” He said the Obama invitation was not “a political statement or an endorsement of policy,” but rather was “the University’s expression of respect for the leader of the nation and the Office of the President.”

Obama’s abortion record was deemed secondary to the respect extended to his office as president of the United States.

The Obama invite for 2009 was so egregious that I wrote a piece for The Weekly Standard at the time, titled, “Duped at Notre Dame.” And of course, I was but one among numerous protesting voices.

Progressives begged to differ, however. Like Jenkins, they noted that the president is the president. Notre Dame invites our presidents, period. So it was, is, and ever shall be. Hey, it’s the standard.

There had been a steady streak, since Jimmy Carter, of presidents giving commencement talks at Notre Dame, with the exception of Bill Clinton. Clinton, though, was provided a podium in September 1992 to give a campaign speech at Notre Dame—again, a platform verboten under Church guidelines. William Jefferson Clinton, pater familias of the #MeTooMovement, regaled the student body with his teaching on “Catholic social responsibility,” conveying how he “personally benefited from Catholic education,” and speaking about “family values.”

As to why Bill Clinton didn’t give a commencement address at Notre Dame, one wonders if he was at least invited. But, alas, Father Hesburgh never clued me in.

Ronald Reagan gave a commencement address there, delivering one of the most memorable speeches of his presidency, only four days after Pope John Paul II was shot. Both Bushes spoke there, with the senior Bush delivering a terrific speech in 1992—a campaign year. One website contends that an “analysis of presidential commencement addresses finds that Notre Dame is the most frequented non-military educational institution at which sitting presidents have delivered commencement speeches, with twice as many as the next school.”

Yes, yes, insisted Notre Dame’s social justice warriors. Obama must be invited. The stampede to his Oval Office door was so vigorous by Notre Dame liberals that the university snagged him his first year. One wonders if the invitation from Fr. Jenkins’s office was already in the mailbox the moment CNN declared Barack Obama president-elect on November 4, 2008.

But, again, just ask any Notre Dame liberal: It would have been wrong to have begrudged Obama that invitation. Notre Dame is open to all our presidents.

Well, that being the standard, it’s time to pay the progressive piper, guys and gals. It’s time to invite one Donald J. Trump to give the commencement speech. He is, after all, the president. To borrow from Fr. Jenkins, such would be an “expression of respect for the leader of the nation and the Office of the President.”

Moreover, the invitation must come next year—no question whatsoever—because it will be the fourth year of the Trump presidency, and possibly the last. If Trump does not get reelected, then Notre Dame’s progressives will have failed to fulfill their code of honor for every president. They wouldn’t deliberately betray that, would they?

To again borrow from Fr. Jenkins, Notre Dame must be a place where people “are received with charity, are able to speak, be heard, and engage in responsible and reasoned dialogue.”

And surely, liberal faculty, especially those preaching “tolerance,” will order the mob of torch-and-pitchfork College Democrats to cease and desist with their petitions demanding the banishment of the current president. What an affront to diversity they are!

And no doubt the suddenly famous mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, will join in. He’s all about accepting differences. He mentions it every day.

So, Notre Dame class of 2020, let me be the first to publicly congratulate you in having the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, as your commencement speaker. As for the administration, pardon me for scooping you on the big announcement. I guess I just wanted to be first.

Editor’s note: Pictured above, U.S. President Barack Obama is presented an honorary law degree from the University of Notre Dame by Richard Notebaert (R), Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and University President Rev. John I. Jenkins (L) during the 164th commencement ceremonies of the University of Notre Dame in the Joyce Center on May 17, 2009, in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo credit: Jeff Haynes-Pool/Getty Images)


  • Paul Kengor

    Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020). He is also the editor of The American Spectator.

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