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May 15th, 2009
09:58 AM ET

Boycotting Obama's commencement speech

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="CNN's Kiran Chetry speaks to a Notre Dame senior who is boycotting graduation over President Obama's speech."]

(CNN) - President Obama this weekend will become the ninth sitting U.S. president to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, but none of the others has touched off the firestorm of Obama's appearance.

At issue is the president's pro-choice abortion belief, which runs counter to the Catholic Church's official pro-life stance, and his support for federal funding of stem-cell research.

One person who was supposed to be going to commencement but is not is Notre Dame senior Emily Toates. She feels so strongly about the university's decision to invite the president in spite of his views on abortion, she's organized a group to boycott her own graduation. Toates spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Friday.

Kiran Chetry: The president will deliver the commencement address. He got an honorary degree from the school. You feel so strongly about that situation that you're not going to attend your graduation? Tell us more about why?

Emily Toates: Well, I was really sad to hear that the university invited President Obama to speak. While it's an honor to have the president come, Obama's stance on certain life issues go against the Catholic teachings. I do not feel comfortable going and celebrating him as the university hands him an honorary degree, in a sense honoring his policies. I didn’t feel comfortable going and standing there and standing beside that – clapping while we did that.

Chetry: How is it shaking down at your school? How many students are supporting this move and how many are against it?

Toates: Well it's a difficult situation. This has caused a bit of division on the campus. But it also has created a lot of... discussion on these issues. I think there's a few camps - there's those strongly against it, those strongly for it, but there’s a lot of people in the middle that really aren't sure how they feel about this. Maybe they disagree with Obama on certain issues but don't really understand how this impacts him giving a speech on campus. So this has created a lot of opportunity for discussion, education. I'm working with "ND Response" and we’ve used this as an opportunity to discus these issues, brought some great speakers to campus, to really talk about this and why this matters.

Chetry: It's interesting you brought it up because your president John Jenkins said the invitation for Obama to speak doesn't imply that the school supports all of his positions when it comes to abortion and stem-cell research but he did say it provides “a basis for further positive engagement.” Are you worried that if you boycott this you send a message – if you disagree with the church's teachings, we're not going to engage you?

Toates: I feel if he was invited in another context, we would not have this problem. If he was invited to a town hall meeting, a panel discussion, something where we were actually discussing these issues and positively engaging, then I wouldn't have a problem with it. I would go and would want to hear what he has to say and dialogue with him. The problem is that a commencement isn’t the context for a dialogue. He's going to be standing up on the stage speaking to us in our seats. There isn't that opportunity for dialogue. And as we hand him that honorary degree, it becomes an endorsement for him.

Chetry: It’s interesting because you probably worked hard these four years and getting that diploma at graduation is something we all look forward to after working hard after four years in college. Are you worried that you’re going to look back and regret you chose not to attend your own graduation?

Toates: I don't think so. Right now, I'm feeling pretty confident in my decision. I'm standing up for something I believe really strongly in. I am fortunate though, Notre Dame does a kind of two-part graduation. I'm graduating with my department on Saturday, which is where we actually walk across the stage, receive the diploma, move our tassels. The graduation on Sunday is a group event... It's a group graduation, there’s no individual recognition at that. So I will get the opportunity to receive the diploma, walk across the stage, and be there with my classmates. And then I’m going to participate in the "ND Response" class of '09 "Vigil for Life," which we’re holding during commencement. It’s going to be a prayer service and an opportunity to celebrate life and our last four years here. It’s going to be a smaller, more intimate ceremony but I think it’s going to be very meaningful.

Filed under: Politics
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Ron

    You're an idiot Emily Toates If you boycott your graduation. You should probably should mind not getting your degree. I can't stand "christians" like you.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  2. Luke

    I respect her for standing up for what she believes in. Focus on what she is saying, as a Catholic : honoring someone who is in favor of killing unborn children (and partially born children) is wrong. Notre Dame would never honor an extreme radical or racist , regardless of their other views they might agree with. Why is it acceptable for them to honor someone who believes in abortion even though they may agree on other social issues?

    May 15, 2009 at 10:22 pm |
  3. The General

    I am just so sick and tired of these holier than thou types forcing their line of garbage down everyone's throat. If you feel you must boycott your graduation – go ahead; the only one losing out is you. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and standards, including our President. Do what you have to do honey, but don't expect a halo to suddenly appear over your head and please don't attempt to ruin it for everyone else.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:21 pm |
  4. mary

    If this is really about Obama receiving an honorary degree, should the notre dame students who are pro-choice or pro-death penalty be prohibited from receiving their degrees as well?

    May 15, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  5. Francine

    I am so sorry for the students who are shaming the Catholic Church. I am a Catholic Nun and we do not austrize anyone.
    We love and accept all people. Who are we to judge! God forgive the students who are being closed minded and not allowing Jesus work through all that is going to happen. Our President is a good and holy man. The students are like the careful.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:16 pm |
  6. Taylor

    Did anyone protest. when Notre Dame invited Ronald Reagan to speak there? If not, I'm curious as to why. Because...he was DIVORCED, and as we all know DIVORCE is also against the teachings of the church.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  7. Tom

    Pro-choice is NOT pro-abortion. God gave us a free will and in 8 years of Catholic school and 4 years of CCD classes, I never heard any nun tell me that God appointed the government to make that choice for us. The right had 8 years in the White House to ban abortion, but that would have robbed them of a wedge issue. And I agree with the poster who says that the media is giving a disapportionate voice to those who are going to boycott. Let's count the number of students attending the ceremony and then the numbers tell the real story.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:12 pm |
  8. Da Professor

    She looks as though she is about to say duhhhhhhhh.
    This smacks as the same ole rigid my way or the highway crap.
    Go back to listening to the Fox channel babe.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:11 pm |
  9. bea

    this girl is a total square.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:11 pm |
  10. Tom Warth

    You are radically mistaken in the accompanying article in referring to Bill Donohue, leader of the self-described "Catholic League, " as a "top Catholic." The Catholic League is not affiliated with the Catholic Church. It conducts no Catholic school or college or any other ministry of the Catholic Church. At last report ten years ago (meaning it is probably less now), the League reported it had only 233,000 paid members. That is out of over 70 million American Catholics. The League is not a religious organization. Instead it is a fringe political group devoted to conservative political ideology, with a governing board consisting of Republican politicos and polemicists such as Linda Chavez and Alan Keyes. Please get your facts straight and not misrepresent as significant the minor fringe position of this group.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:10 pm |
  11. JKT

    It sure is sad that 40% of N.D. students don't understand that the primary reason for going to college is to be exposed to other viewpoints and opinions. That is what allows us to expand our horizons, open our minds, and actually learn. To boycott a dissenting opinion is to shun all that N.D. (and any university) has to offer you in life's lessons. Please, Ms. Toates, don't close yourself off from the world and become cemented in your ideas at such a young age.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:08 pm |
  12. jack

    Intolerance even before she reaches adulthood!
    Does she realize Obama come there as a ceremonial head-even during the election Obama aimed for middle ground. He was for reconciliation.
    Obama is NOT there to convert you. YOU are nobody-YOU are throwing away a great honor. How often does a president come for graduation (democratic or republican). YOU DISHONOR the American flag and our nation.
    YOU are NOT a real American.
    Shame on you-You will never make in it in real life.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:05 pm |
  13. Ken

    I'm pro-choice, but Ms. Toates is to be commended for her stand. She's exercising her right of free speech. If we are to celebrate diversity, it must include people like Ms. Toates.

    For every opinion, there will be an opposing voice. We should debate and discuss our differences. In the end, it may well be that we have to agree ti disagree. As long as she doesn't take it to extremes as some anti-abortion folks have, she should make her voice heard. Even if that means boycotting Obama's commencment speech.

    Now here's my free speech; I don't like abortion, but I won't presume to judge those who choose to have one. I'm not living their life and I don't pretend to unders0tand why they arrived at that decision. It's a private decision and they must reconcile it with themselves and their Creator if they believe in one.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  14. ellen

    This is appalling to me. This is the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. These students are what's wrong with kids today - pampered and self-indulgent. I'm reasonably certain that there is separation of church and state in this country .. Don't think that abortion should be an option? Then don't have one. But to silence our President? Shame on you.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  15. Ken

    Imagine the uproar if former President George W. Bush had been invited to speak at the University of California-Berkeley.

    What a double standard, you folks who are criticizing a Catholic student for supporting the basis of her faith are ridiculous!

    Obama is not only wrong on the issues, but he is a walking disaster already as president.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:01 pm |
  16. wendy

    Thumbs down to Notre Dame! Who cares if the one track minds boycott the President of the United States. Obviously, the University is falling short on their history, political science and ethics classes. I bet they could have George Bush or Dick Cheney speak. I think their schedules are both open. Is anyone listening? Is anyone getting it? They ban our President but would have welcomed the other two. Good thing Pres. Obama does not have my disposition. I would tell them to get over themselves and their over inflated ego. Big Yuck!!!!! I guess to be more direct I am saying shove it where the sun don't shine Notre DUMB!

    May 15, 2009 at 10:01 pm |
  17. Ken

    Imagine the uproar if former President George W. Bush had been invited to speak at the University of California-Berkeley.

    What a double standard, you folks who are criticizing a Catholic student for supporting the basis of her faith are ricdiculous!

    Obama is not only wrong on the issues, but he is a walking disaster already as president.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  18. Don Murphy

    We have been under the heel of the the Religious Right for far too long. If they do not want to have an abortion, then by all means, don't and I will be the first to defend their right not to. If they do not want to take advantage of the medical miracles created by stem cell research, don't, no one will force them. Just keep your opinions to yourself. Listen to your own gospel and judge not lest you be judged!

    I blame the lost lives of my wife and one of my best friends, on the religious right and their "dark ages" mentality. I blame the dementia my mother suffers from, on the religious right and their "dark ages" mentality. Who knows how far along we might be and what diseases and ailments may well have been eradicated by now if not for their ridiculous demands, and misguided beliefs.

    Hopefully, your time has come and gone. It is time for a new era. Time to allow science do its work. We have already lost nearly 40 years, from the first term of RR and every death, every moment of human suffering that has occurred since then, that could have been prevented or mitigated, I lay squarely at your doorstep.

    You need to change your designation to the Religious Wrong!

    May 15, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  19. T

    Hey Chris Rosa - PRO ABORTION? What the hell is THAT? Obama is NOT PRO ABORTION (WHO IS?). Obama is PRO CHOICE. Crawl out from under your rock and listen to the man.

    He should decline the honorary degree? As long as Notre Dame accepts FESERAL FUNDING - which they do to the tune of MILLIONS -Notre Dame will FOLLOW the CONSTITUTION. You want it your way? Move to Iraq.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  20. April

    Gee, can we all worry about what is happening to our country and all the people in it who have No Job, No Health Insurance, and yet this student is boycotting Obama – so what? Get real, get a life. I thought this was American, where freedom of choice and freedom of speech prevailed? And Thank you Margie Johnson for your comments – gee have they forgotten? I think the have – get over yourselfs and get a life outside the church – which has it own problems, not stop bashing Obama and anyone else for that matter!

    May 15, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  21. Jesus Christ

    The catholic church is a joke, Priest molest kids all the time, get a slap on the wrist, and this is their concern now, please give me a break. Let them boycott. I dont think Obama nor anyone else will lose sleep

    May 15, 2009 at 9:59 pm |
  22. Jake

    Her loss. Will she also "boycott" some possible future medical treatment that would maybe save the life of her child or another Loved one because it was a result of stem cell research?

    May 15, 2009 at 9:59 pm |
  23. prosperare

    Respect your views, but please, please, please go to your graduation. You will regret not going for the rest of your life.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:58 pm |
  24. Rev Jack in TampaBay


    May 15, 2009 at 9:58 pm |
  25. Sandi B

    I am curious as to why this minority opinion has been given so much prominence on CNN. It is in keeping with the sad tendency of the media to sensationalize news in an effort to garner ratings. This is the end result of news as entertainment.

    There is so much happening in the world but the mighty American media rushes headlong into it's continuing slide, becoming nothing more than a parochial tabloid rag. The losers in the end is the public.

    Many persons in times past were erudite, informed and able to converse on world affairs from nothing more than listening to radio news. Today even a person who has benefited from an education from the prestigious Notre Dame U displays narrowness of thought and outlook. And technology beams it instantaneously around the world. Be careful America! The rest of the world is surpassing you. Demand more of your media!!

    May 15, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  26. T

    So much for higher education. Too bad Notre Dame students don't understand separation of Church and State.

    Obama does not "support abortion." He supports the RIGHT TO CHOOSE. He's been very clear about this.

    Let's set women back into the dark ages, how about it? Who are these foolish graduates? Too bad for you not to attend your ceremony. The world won't weep for you. It's your problem and yours alone.

    It's Okay for Priests to molest altar boys but not for a victim of rape or incest to get an abortion? Glad I live in the 21st century - you can remain in the dark ages, barefoot and pregnant with a house full of kids and no job. Hope that college ed-u-ma-ca-tion lands you a good hubby.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  27. Tom

    I wonder how Toates feels about all of the ones in the Catholic church that molested young boys? Does her "right to life" stance include the prohibition of raping young members of the Catholic church? Did she ever speak out against that and did CNN ever even ask for opinions concerning that? CNN wouldn't dare have an opposing view to this interview.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  28. Nan

    I heard abortion called fetal homocide many years ago when abortion first became legal.
    The "choice" was made when the two concenting adults "choose to have unpotected sex.
    Do none of you think about the choice of the innocent life that is given no choice. And it is a life. I dare you to look at the "products of conception after abortion and tell me it is not a life.
    And obama suports abortion/fetal homocide at all stages, even when this child is born alive. How can any sane and moral person support it. It is genocide, it is the holocaust of innocents.
    How can he possible be honored at a Catholic University?

    May 15, 2009 at 9:55 pm |
  29. Will Esser

    Emily, I'm a Notre Dame grad. Congrats on your wonderful and principled stance. This is not a political position about Obama. Rather, it is a statement about Notre Dame and the poor judgment of the ND Board of Directors in giving an honor to someone whose positions are specifically contrary to those of the Catholic Church. That is hypocrisy and is why your position is so well taken. Wish I could be with you there this weekend! Keep up the great work. Notre Dame, Our Mother, pray for us. Will

    May 15, 2009 at 9:53 pm |
  30. marchoi

    “Certainly NARAL or Planned Parenthood would never invite Benedict XVI, much less extend an award to him.” – Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, ND

    The issue at hand isn't just Obama's stance on abortion. As has been stated previously, the problem is that ND is planning on honoring Obama with the honorary degree. As has been stated previously, the fact that Obama is coming is not a problem – even a Catholic school ought to be a place for academic discourse and discussion. But for a Catholic school to HONOR someone whose position is so contrary to the Catholic position is the issue at hand. If you can't stand up for your views, why bother having those views in the first place?

    May 15, 2009 at 9:53 pm |
  31. Seriously Amused

    There you go. Cut off your nose to spite your face. Judge not lest ye be judged, Princess.

    I hope you enjoy your life of closed minded bigotry and intolerance.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:52 pm |
  32. David J

    I grew up in South Bend, and this attitude doesn't surprise me in the least. Notre Dame students are stuck up teenagers, with rich stuck up parents. This girl is just trying to get her five seconds of fame.

    Let her skip her own graduation. She's just going to regret it a week later.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:51 pm |
  33. Jose Enrique

    I am tired of people using its 15 minutes of fame just to impose their views on everybody. This is a free country. If only one girl is not the whole university. The problem is when people pay too much attention to this things.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  34. Andy

    So let me get this straight: This girl is boycotting her graduation ceremony because the speaker doesn't share the same opinions she does. I have news for this girl – Nobody believes in everything that you believe in. People do not share the same opinion on EVERYTHING. For being a senior at a prestigious academic institute, this seems like a rather irrational action.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  35. Greg

    Do we have a count of how many actual degrees are being awarded to students who have been allowed on campus every day for four or more years, but who believe in a woman's right to choose?

    May 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  36. Carla

    When Ann Coulter get here???

    May 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  37. Albert

    You have the right to protest. This is a democratic country. Stand by your principles! Now , where was your outrage when priests who have molested young boys have bee transferred to different parishes? I do not want to sling any more mud. Admit it, the only reason you do not want THIS president on your campus is because he is black. Your reasoning for your protest is dumb. How did you earn your degree?

    May 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  38. Matt

    How about having some tolerance for the views of other people? Your going to need it once you graduate, that's for sure.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  39. Robb in NY

    I am shocked at the hypocrisy. Not a peep from these same people when Bush spoke at Notre Dame. The Vatican doesn't differentiate between abortion, the death penalty or torture. It is against them all. These “Christians” are pro-death penalty and pro-torture. Being pro choice doesn’t mean pro abortion. It just means that when a woman finds herself in the moral and ethical quandary of ending a pregnancy, it should be done safely by a doctor. The right wants to force her to carry the fetus to term and then cut off all social spending for support. Abortions have been around since the dawn of time, they have too often resulted in harm to the woman who tried self abortion with a coat hanger or other instrument.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  40. Alex



    BTW, CNN I thinks it's awesome that there is absolutely nothing else of importance going on in the world so you this obviously front-page worthy story can be your top story. Way to go.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:46 pm |
  41. Steve K

    President Obama is certainly worthy of an honorary degree from any university, given his historic accomplishments. Honestly, I think he could do substantially better than Notre Dame; given that he has real degrees from Harvard, Columbia, and Occidental, he could essentially use this honorary degree to paper train Bo (if Bo would go near it).

    I think it would be interesting to see a list of prior honorary degrees bestowed by Notre Dame, to see if any of those recipients were as perfect and virtuous as Ms. Toates. I bet she'd proudly attend the ceremony if the president adorning the stage was white, Republican, and named Bush–even with the alcoholism, cocaine abuse, and the blood on his hands of thousands of casualties of the Iraq War. I guess those stem cells have more value to her than actual people.

    Some people are such thorough-going twits–even with a college degree.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:46 pm |
  42. StephanieK

    This girl need to get a life. I saw her today and what she says did not make any sense.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:46 pm |
  43. Patty

    It doesn't matter how many lives have been destroyed by these priests to the Catholics. They are only concerned with life in the womb. Once babys are born to parents that could care less about them , where is the concern then? People just have to have something to carp about or they are not happy. Go get your degreee, you don't have to clap and cheer when he gets his. Where is your respect for the President? We can't all have the same opinions on every thing.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:45 pm |
  44. Aaron Schweiger

    I find it amusing that when Notre Dame bestowed an honorary degree to President George W. Bush in May of 2001, none of the pro-life students had a problem with it even though as Governor of Texas, Bush had signed 147 death warrants. In fact, Pope John Paul II had personally appealed to Bush to commute these death sentences to life in prison to no avail. Isn’t the right to life absolute? Why the hypocrisy?

    May 15, 2009 at 9:39 pm |
  45. Margie Johnson

    I find it very appalling that there is so much controversy over president, Obama speaking at Notre Dame, Have they forgotten how many lives have been destroyed because of the priest molesting little boys? Have they forgotten the one's that have admitted being gay? How about the priests that molested children and were never sentenced,just sent to another church. You need to stop throwing stones while you are living in glass houses.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:06 pm |
  46. Kev

    America is suppose to be a land of choice, free choice!! Free speech too as long as it dosn't harm or incite a riot. So if anyone should agree or disagree why is it so hard to agree to disagree and move the hell on? As far as catholic teaching well please dont even let me get started, it is clearly evident she has read the book. Only god reserves the right to judge ones actions!!

    May 15, 2009 at 5:15 pm |
  47. chris rosa

    I think the point is being missed here. Our President is being given an honorary degree from a Catholic University, not that he is giving a commencement speech. As a Catholic University, no person that is pro abortion should be given an honorary anything. This young woman has the right to say she is against abortion. She is not making a judgement on the person but on the sin of murdering an unborn child. Abortion is not a right, just as murder is not a right. It is wrong no matter what faith you are. Our President supports abortion and partial birth abortion. He should have respectfully declined the honorary degree and just made his speech.

    May 15, 2009 at 3:49 pm |
  48. Nichole

    I guess I have to commend this girl for having strong opinions and being active as opposed to the apathetic attitude that many college students exhibit. At the same time, she is blowing this way out of proportion. She's not really boycotting her graduation because she is still walking across the stage and getting her diploma on Saturday as she pointed out. This is an artificial display of an intolerant person's point of view. Just get over yourself for a minute...

    May 15, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  49. larry little

    The idea of boycotting President Obama’s speech at the University of Notre Dame is just plain crazy.
    Because, the President believes choosing abortion is a right given to you (women) by God and it
    is by your faith that decision is made.

    President Obama meet Michelle, they fell in love, got married, and had children. Why? That is the way he believes it should be done.

    God gave all of us, beginning with Adam and Eve, the right to make a choice.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:40 pm |
  50. Adam Winer

    This is ridiculous- everyone has the right to make their own decisions, but people really need to get out of the Stone Ages with their thinking.

    Go and graduate, celebrate your accomplishments, and listen to one of the bestorator presidents of our time. You may learn something that will benefit you as you enter the real world.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:38 pm |
  51. eliz

    emily..Having a guilty conscience are we. I can see right through you. I hope I am not out of line, but something seems to be nagging you. He is not there to change your beliefs. He is just there to speak to all the graduates who have taken a step in their lives before they move on to the "real" world to the next step. My dear, as I listened to you today, you will not fit in today's world. You have not learned tolerance and will probaby never learn it. All I have to say is that the world would be a better place without you in it with your atttude. By the way, did your parents raise you to be this way? I doubt it or maybe I should not assume how they raised you. We are what they made!

    May 15, 2009 at 11:33 am |
  52. steven

    this young lady would be called unamerican if this were a year ago, by the way. – the air time to give a single individual who has what seems to be an extreme opinion strikes me as a media play to create more controversy. stories should have both sides of the coin but all i see are GOP attacks, fringe groups (hate groups) and other conservative coverage to emphasize dissention. although these opinions exist this is a minority view according to polls but gets more page time than the majority.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:30 am |
  53. Raven

    If I remember correctly wasn't it the church that preaches that we should accept all those that come before us and not to judge others' beliefs? Lest we be judged ourselves?

    It seems to me that this one has forgotten the basics. How is she going to go through the rest of her life being so judgmental of others? How can she and the others like her ever expect to be accepted if they cannot accept others?

    When will people learn to just accept other people for what and who they are and stop trying to impose their mindset on everyone?

    I find it rather offensive that she should be so judgemental on anyone let alone the President.

    I have Cherokee blood in my veins and background. Is that to say that she will denounce and judge me because of this? Our beliefs are not the same as hers or her religion. When she sees one of us (Native Americans) on the street will she put us down and say that our beliefs are inferior to hers?

    I think she needs to take a close look at her surroundings and rethink whether she wants to be in this misguided position.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:19 am |