Notre Dame Graduation Features President Obama, Protests

When more than 2,000 students receive their diplomas at the University of Notre Dame Sunday, there will be familiar graduation weekend sights -- students in cap and gowns, proud parents snapping photographs and celebrations.

But there also will be protests from anti-abortion activists who are furious at Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to deliver the commencement address and awarding him an honorary degree because of his positions on abortion and his announcements on stem cell research and international family planning.

Video: President Obama prepares to speak at Notre Dame.
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The protests first flared up in March, when the White House announced that Notre Dame, in South Bend, Ind., would be one of three schools where Obama would deliver a commencement address, and have continued for weeks, with students and outside activists staging demonstrations just off campus.

This year, for the first time in more than 100 years, Notre Dame will not present its most prestigious award, the Laetare Medal, because the Catholic scholar who won it, Mary Ann Glendon, turned it down.

As was the case at Arizona State University this week, Obama will not shy away from addressing the controversy surrounding his visit. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president will mention the debate that has occurred over the commencement.

"I think the president is somebody who's taught in a university setting and would understand that this is exactly the type of give-and-take that's had on college campuses all over the country," Gibbs said.

Notre Dame president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., has stopped commenting on the issue.

Officials at the university refer back to his initial statement March 23 where he said that the invitation does not mean Notre Dame supports all of Obama's decisions, nor should it be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

"Presidents from both parties have come to Notre Dame for decades to speak to our graduates -- and to our nation and world -- about a wide range of pressing issues -- from foreign policy to poverty, from societal transformation to social service. We are delighted that President Obama will follow in this long tradition of speaking from Notre Dame on issues of substance and significance," Jenkins said.

Obama won the Catholic vote in last year's election, 54-45 over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Twenty-seven percent of voters identified themselves as Catholic, according to national exit polling.

Obama also won Indiana, the first time the Hoosier State had gone to a Democrat since 1964, and he won Notre Dame's home county, St. Joseph, 58-41 percent.

Some Students to Boycott Ceremony

Victor Saenz is a graduating senior, but he will not go to Sunday's ceremony to protest the university awarding Obama an honorary degree.

"This is not just about commencement, but this is about upholding who I am as a Catholic and what this institution is as a Catholic institution," he told ABC News. "If this was just a regular old secular institution -- UCLA, whatever -- it would be different, but this is the University of Notre Dame, Our Lady's university."

Saenz does not have a problem with Obama as president, but he said the president's positions were at odds with fundamental Catholic teachings.

Notre Dame student Michele Sagala said that she would have no problem with Obama coming to campus for a forum or dialogue, but took issue with the university honoring him at the commencement.

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