While degrees were conferred on 2,163 undergraduates, one member of the 2016 class explained in a moving essay why she sat out the university’s 171’st Commencement Ceremony because of her abiding devotion to Notre Dame.
In this bulletin, we reproduce from the valuable Internet publication Ethika Politika an absorbing essay, ”Why I Didn’t Attend My Notre Dame Graduation,” by a 2016 Notre Dame graduate, Alexandra DeSanctis.
Alexandra was one of the hundreds of student signatories to the statement Objections to the Laetare Medal Decision whose representatives Father Jenkins twice refused to meet.
In her essay, she tells us what she did not have a chance to tell him. Writing in sorrow rather than anger or resentment, Alexandra affirms her “deep love and gratitude” to Notre Dame, describes something of her experience in “laboring for a cause that seems to succeed little, if ever,” explains how the honoring of Vice President Biden darkened her graduation, and concludes:
I spent four years working, praying, and fostering the hope that Notre Dame would reverse its course toward secularization and instead embrace its Catholic identity in a meaningful way. That hope – shared by many students, alumni, and outside observers more dedicated than myself – was crushed, perhaps even deliberately, by Fr. Jenkins’s decision to honor Biden, and as much as I wanted to celebrate my graduation, seeing four years of work and prayers shot down before my eyes wasn’t the right way to do it.
Her poignant final words:
And while I’ll continue to have hope for my university, on the day of my commencement I didn’t want to cry for her anymore.
Alexandra DeSanctis (’16)
Alexandra DeSanctis, from Potomac Falls, Virginia, earned her baccalaureate from Notre Dame in 2016 with a major in political science and minors in theology and constitutional studies. As an undergraduate, she was executive editor of The Irish Rover, co-chair of the Edith Stein conference, and an organizer of SCOP, the pro-marriage and family club initially denied official recognition. In 2015, Alexandra received the Sycamore Outstanding Student Award for her leadership among a dedicated and courageous cohort of students engaged in the battle over the Catholic identity of the university.
Why I Didn’t Attend My Notre Dame Graduation
by Alexandra DeSanctis
May 22, 2016
Many of my friends and acquaintances probably thought I chose not to attend the Notre Dame commencement ceremony a week ago Sunday because I was protesting the university’s awarding Vice President Joe Biden with the Laetare Medal, the greatest honor for American Catholics. Those who really know me know that I love Notre Dame too much to do that.
It wasn’t a protest, and I didn’t even feel angry. I didn’t go to my college graduation because I didn’t want to fight. I was sad, and I was tired.
Tired physically, yes. Tired after a week of finals, followed by a week of attempting to cherish my last time with all of the friends I had made over my four years, followed by a few days of feverish packing. Just the thought of having to stand in line and be prodded through Secret Service checkpoints at 7 a.m. on my last day on campus made me feel tired.
I skipped graduation in part because I was tired physically, but much more importantly because I was tired of fighting against my own university. I spent the majority of my four years at Notre Dame hard at work, not only in my classes, but perhaps with even more passion for the causes I hold dear. For the Irish Rover, bringing to light the truth about both the controversial and somewhat hidden goings-on at Our Lady’s University. For the Edith Stein Project, planning a conference that would stir conversation among my peers and educate them about human relationships and identity. For Students for Child-Oriented Policy, focusing campus conversation on the rights of children, particularly in the realm of federal and state marriage policy.
I was tired, both from lack of sleep and from the exhaustion of laboring for four years for a cause that seems to succeed little, if ever.
If I could go back to the start of my freshman year, though, even knowing I would be so tired at the end wouldn’t lead me to decrease my involvement in any of these groups. In fact, I’d like to think that I would join them even earlier, ask for even more responsibility, persist even more strongly in encouraging younger students to understand and preserve Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
But by May 15 of this year, I was too tired—and too sad—for one last fight. I skipped my graduation not because I was angry at Notre Dame and not because I thought University President Fr. Jenkins or John Boehner or Joe Biden would ever know that I had skipped it. Even if Fr. Jenkins did hear that a handful of students weren’t present as a result of the Laetare Medal honorees, I’m inclined to doubt that he’d feel remorseful.
Had I Gone
I didn’t skip my college graduation because I was mad or vengeful or clinging stubbornly to my principles. If I had set foot in Notre Dame Stadium that morning, I would have felt obliged to applaud as Vice President Biden was awarded the highest Catholic honor in the nation, but I would not have clapped.
I would have shook my head listening to Fr. Jenkins praise Biden’s service to the Church and the nation, and I would have shed more than a few tears listening to Biden talk about the importance of family while ignoring the importance of the most defenseless family members among us, the unborn.
I would have remained seated if the Vice President received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, and I would have received stares and angry looks, but I would not have cared. I skipped my graduation because, after four years, I didn’t want to finish with a fight, and if I had been there, I would have had no choice but to feel like fighting.
I chose not to walk at my own graduation not because I was resentful toward my university, but precisely because of the deep love and gratitude I have for my time at Notre Dame. Experiencing the commencement ceremony as it stood would not have been the right way to honor my four years as a student.
I spent four years working, praying, and fostering the hope that Notre Dame would reverse its course toward secularization and instead embrace its Catholic identity in a meaningful way. That hope—shared by many students, alumni, and outside observers more dedicated than myself—was crushed, perhaps even deliberately, by Fr. Jenkins’ decision to honor Biden, and, as much as I wanted to celebrate my graduation, seeing four years of work and prayers shot down before my eyes wasn’t the right way to do that.
At the end of the day, I was sad that Fr. Jenkins chose to honor Biden as an exemplary American Catholic, but I was sad, too, that I missed my graduation. I would have loved to be there, to walk with all of my classmates—those I knew and those I liked and even those I didn’t like—in one place, on the field where we had watched 24 football games together. I will always be a little sad that I didn’t share in that experience.
But if I had been there, my sorrow would have been much more overwhelming than my sadness at missing the ceremony, because it would have been for Notre Dame and not for myself. And while I’ll continue to have hope for my university, on the day of my commencement, I didn’t want to cry for her anymore.
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