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2001-05-20 - 5:29 p.m.

Graduation: Friends Forever

Sunday, May 20

The big day. The President was scheduled to land at 11 a.m., the time the four of us are out on the lakeside hill below where Holy Cross Hall used to stand taking pictures with the Dome behind us. I keep one eye on the sky, hoping for the money shot of Air Force One flying over the campus architecture. It never shows, and I then notice the wind blowing in the direction that would have planes landing at South Bend Regional from the west, not the east and over campus.

Jess’ friends meet at Lyons for some group shots in front of the arch before we meet Liz and her family for some more photos by the library. I see Kathy and Laura and the three of us get a picture beneath the trees three years after our own big day.

Because of all the security, we are encouraged to enter the ACC two hours early, and Mom, Dad and I get into the line outside Gate 10 beneath the hot sun around 12:15. We passed one protester, a man handing out flyers and criticizing the president for his anti-Catholic beliefs. By 1 p.m. we’ve finally been herded through, and we take our seats in Section 17, just to the right behind the stage, above where one of the scoreboards sits in the basketball arena. We’re actually right above the tunnel through which the platform party emerges; the Arts and Letters graduates enter from the tunnel to the left of the stage.

Once the graduates are seated – and I spent the whole time looking through my zoom lens for Jess to come through the tunnel – my sister is up in the seats to the left side of the stage. The professors and platform party begins to emerge, and Laura Bush makes her entrance from the tunnel beneath us to take her seat in the front row among the law school graduates. Seated to her is her assistant, another woman and her husband to the right and her Secret Service agent behind. Mrs. Bush was honored before commencement with a scholarship in her name to a Texas school in the ACE program.

President Bush is announced along with Fr. Malloy and the two walk out together, to “Hail To The Chief” and a standing ovation and rousing applause from the audience. Bush waves and flashes pop as he takes his seat on stage.

The valedictory speech is OK – and gets a strong applause from two points: One for the mention of the women’s basketball national championship, the other a comment directed at those, paraphrasing her words, who kill the unborn and put criminals to death. I wonder what W’s face looked like on that one.

When the President is introduced to give his address, the crowd stands, but Dad and I remain seated. I don’t feel like giving him an ovation just for being there and being the President. A few other people I see did the same. And (this I didn’t learn until that night, and then saw the picture in the South Bend Tribune on Monday), one grad student left his seat and knelt in the aisle directly in front of the podium, his back to the president. The paper reported that he spent the 22 minutes of the speech praying the rosary.

Bush’s speech starts out like many of his addresses do, with humor. He’s like the guy at the party who’s already popular, or at least well-known, but still feels the need to make jokes to make friends and be accepted. He mentions his brother Jeb: “He may be the Catholic in the family, but between the two of us, I’m the only Domer.”

He talks of his first visit to Notre Dame, in 1980 during his father’s vice presidential campaign: “I spoke then and was well received by the crowd: all six of them walked with me to my car.”

He also quotes Rockne: “I’ve found prayer works best when you have big players.”

The President speaks of helping the poor and of “faith-based initiatives,” citing programs developed by Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton – whose name draws healthy applause. But he loses me when his speech turns from a graduation address to policy announcement. I cringe when he brings out the figures – “8 percent” of something, the “treatment gap” between the 5 million people who need help fighting drug addiction and the 2 million people who actually get that help. He uses the phrase “my administration” too much – beginning with the first time. I can’t understand why he continues to campaign – as far as I knew, the election ended in December. I didn’t applaud during the speech after it turned political, and I stood when he left only to watch him leave – it was, after all, my first view of a president.

After the ceremony, back outside on the quad between the Stadium and library, we sit on a bench beneath the trees with Liz and her family, killing time before our 6 p.m. reservations at Tippecanoe. I hear a plane taking off, and looking up see Air Force One pass over Hesburgh Library at 4:45 p.m. on its way to New Haven, Conn. and Yale’s graduation Monday.

Dinner with friends, sitting downstairs at Tippecanoe in the Billiard Room, along with Colonel Mustard and the candlesticks. The meal done, we say our good-byes on the veranda – or maybe it’s just the porch, but it feels like a night for walking on the veranda, looking out over the yard. I go back to Kregg's house to pick up my stuff and spend the night on campus with Jess. I figure if we’re going to get an early start in the morning, it would save time if I’m on campus. I’ll also get an extra half hour of sleep. Besides, I want to take one final walk around the buildings.

Back at Lyons, we pack all but the last few things we’ll need for the night into our car – Jess’ car was packed up Saturday night – and Mom and Dad leave for the hotel. Jess goes off for her meeting with Katie and I take my camera and tripod and notebook and some time to myself to visit some familiar spots. After seven years with a connection to Notre Dame, a direct link either through myself or my sister, this is the last night I’ll be so close to this place. Six years and nine months after I spent my first night in that Grace Hall dorm bed, I’ll be spending my last on the RA couch of my sister’s room.

I return to Lyons just before 1 a.m., only minutes before my sister calls from downstairs (I’d taken her key). We get a few hours' sleep.

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