It’s Commencement time at Notre Dame, several days of celebration, satisfaction and pride for graduates and their families. For the seniors, awaiting their bachelor degrees, it may well be a once in a lifetime passage. But how is it experienced by the faculty and staff, many of whom have seen a good number of these events come and go, year after year?
Some of us are indifferent. For example, a relatively small percentage of our faculty of 1,000 actually attends. (Some, but certainly not all, may have commitments elsewhere.) For others of us it is important and it is bittersweet. We look forward to a quieter time of year on campus but we are painfully conscious that another year has gone, and with it some of the people with whom we’ve shared this campus over the past four years.
I’m not too admiring of our more indifferent colleagues, though they may have wholly reasonable points of view. Some may think Commencement is strictly for the students and families and that their work, whether as a teacher or administrator, has been done. For me, apart from the occasional melancholy emotion, it is a triumphant time. This is what we do – whatever our particular duty. We work through the years to see these young people prepare for life and go on to the journey ahead. Why not feel some pride? Why not take pleasure in seeing families at their best? We know that few families quite live up to the Norman Rockwell ideal, but on Commencement Day they sure look the part. And it’s a good day for the Notre Dame Family as well — the communal exuberance of the assembled graduates, their enthusiastic support for their Valedictorian’s address, the emotional singing of the alma mater — they are us at our best.
I’ve been to other college graduations, and they all have their traditions and their moments. But these rituals are right in our wheelhouse. Perhaps this was never more evident than during the 2009 Commencement when President Obama addressed a divided audience of graduates and families. A few outside protesters infiltrated the audience and tried to disrupt the president’s speech. The assembled graduates — at least a significant minority of whom opposed the honorary degree for Obama — immediately looked in the direction of the disrupters and chanted in unison, “We are ND.” It was a certifiable Notre Dame Moment. The message: we have our differences but no outsider is going to interrupt a time that is precious to us.
It is precious to them, and it is primarily about them. But for us in the supporting cast, it can be a time to remember and re-affirm what it is we are doing here.
Matt Storin, a former editor of The Boston Globe and former associate vice president for news and information at Notre Dame, is the University’s chief communications executive.