ND Commencement 2003

Author: Ed Cohen

Speakers at the May 2003 commencement reminded graduates that the world is a different and scarier place than when they arrived at college. One said the way to cope with it is through a worldwide system of accountability for weapons of mass destruction. Another simply implored, “Do not be afraid.”

Valedictorian Margaret Laracy ’03 from Jersey City, New Jersey, recalled that four years ago, when she and her classmates arrived at Notre Dame, “the economy was strong, jobs were plentiful, and Americans felt secure.” Today, she said, jobs are scarce, terrorism threatens, and war has become a reality.

However, she reminded the capacity crowd in the Joyce Center May 18 that Jesus’ first words upon rising from the dead, in the Gospel of Matthew, are, “Do not be afraid.”

The psychology major said graduates could take inspiration in these anxious times from the courage demonstrated by people like the World Trade Center firefighters and because, in the words of Saint John: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

“Here at Our Lady’s university, " she told her classmates, “we have learned too much of love to be afraid.”

The featured speaker at commencement, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, devoted almost his entire talk to warning against isolationism in a time of rising threats of violence globally.

“The experience of September 11, 2001, re-taught a grim lesson that our nation periodically has had to re-learn. That is, trouble will find us whether we choose to be involved in the world or not, said the Republican, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Lugar said Americans have always loved the image of the U.S. hero who goes overseas, brings peace to a distant land and then returns home, the plot line of popular movies from Sergeant York to Saving Private Ryan. In coming years, he said, we will not have the luxury of coming home after battles are fought.

“We’re struggling with this problem right now in Iraq.”

Lugar said the United States must embrace the role of nation builder in Iraq and elsewhere, not merely out of altruism “but because our own existence is threatened by the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”

He called for a worldwide system of accountability for nations possessing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. For those countries lacking the means to guarantee such security, he said, the international community must provide the money and technical assistance.

Also at commencement, Catholic writers and editors Peter and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, received the Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics. The Steinfels are both former editors of Commonweal, an independent journal of political, religious and literary opinion published by Catholic laypeople. Peter Steinfels’ “Beliefs” column continues to appear in The New York Times. Margaret Steinfels, who succeeded her husband as editor of Commonweal in 1988, continued in that position until resigning earlier this year.

O’Brien Steinfels began by saying she and husband were grateful for the honor but were also reminded of the old Irish belief about what inevitably follows good fortune.

“You will be punished. Your plane will probably crash on the way home. Or that slightly sore tooth . . . will metastasize into a brain tumor. Or your children will start voting Republican.”

This last remark drew not only laughter but applause. It was unclear whether people were clapping because they thought it would be fortunate to have one’s children voting Republican or, as Mrs. Steinfels implied, the opposite.

In addition to Lugar, nine people received honorary doctorates at the 2003 commencement exercises, Notre Dame’s 158th. They were: Notre Dame Trustee and Fellow *Kathleen W. Andrews ’63M.S., *vice chairman of Andrews McMeel Universal, a media company that includes the largest independent newspaper syndicate in the world; *Molly Corbett Broad, *president of the 16-campus University of North Carolina and chair of the Internet2 Board of Trustees; *Roland W. Chamblee, *longtime family physician in South Bend and community leader in the civil rights movement and social services; *Evelyn Hu-DeHart, *professor of history at Brown University and director of its Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America; *Allen Mandelbaum, *internationally acclaimed Dante scholar; *Leslie E. Robertson, *lead structural engineer for the twin towers of the World Trade Center and designer of three of the eight tallest buildings in the world plus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and Continental Arena in New Jersey; *Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, *archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, campaigner for human rights and the poor and considered a leading papal candidate; *Judge Anthony J. Scirica, *chief of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia; and *Raul Yzaguirre, *civil rights leader, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza, the most influential and respected Hispanic organization in the country.