It's commencement season again, and as I mentioned, I was in Boston on Friday for Simmons College's graduation. Simmons alumna Gwen Ifill was the speaker, and did a terrific job.
Among other things, she talked about her own commencement speaker, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African-American woman to run for President. In her day, many dismissed Congresswoman Chisholm as a gadfly and a troublemaker, a marginal figure -- but without her, Gwen Ifill noted, Barbara Jordan would not have made her historic speech at the 1976 Democratic Convention, and Hillary Clinton might not have been such a strong Presidential candidate in 2008.
Present becomes past, and the past changes as our perception of it changes. We argue about the importance of historical events and great works of literature and oratory because their current meaning for us is always changing.
How, then, is anyone served by limiting speech in any public forum? I ask this in light of the protests against President Barack Obama's speech at Notre Dame yesterday, which many opposed because of his stances in favor of embryonic stem-cell research and in opposition to laws restricting abortion. Mary Ann Glendon declined the University's Laetare medal in protest of Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama, and some students and parents stayed away.
When I was at Georgetown, the Young Americans for Freedom invited Roberto D'Aubuisson to speak. Even in retrospect, I'm shocked by this. Roberto D'Aubuisson was widely acknowledged to be the man responsible for the 1980 assassination of Archbishop
Oscar Romero; in 1984, when D'Aubuisson came to Georgetown, the blood on his hands was still practically fresh.
But D'Aubuisson spoke at Georgetown, while students protested outside, and that's how it's supposed to be. No one should forget that man's name; no one should forget his crime. He should have been in jail, rather than being feted as a champion of democracy, but in any case, he had a right to speak.
President Obama took the opportunity yesterday to express views on abortion that many Americans share: it's a tragedy for everyone involved, and what we need to do is reduce the perceived need for it. No one has an abortion because she wants to. Women have abortions because they feel compelled to. That is why I, despite my own belief that abortion is homicide, don't want to live in a society that enforces laws against it -- and also why I object to the term "pro-choice," because I see abortion as the last choice, the act women come to when they feel they've run out of choices.
I'm glad President Obama spoke at Notre Dame yesterday. I'm glad people showed up to protest, though I think much of that protest was misguided.
John Cardinal Newman, who believed in argument and the value of public discourse, once said, "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." I don't know about you, but I'm still changing...