Notre Dame graduating class of 2009: my hope for you is that the Jesuits have taught you how to think critically. Whether you studied arts, science, letters, or math, the power of critical thinking will give you an advantage as you begin your professional lives.
All around you today are the symbols of people who are ruled by their ambitions or emotions. The former presidential candidate (Alan Keyes) who spent part of this graduation weekend in jail, for his actions over the past couple days on your campus. The collection of people intense in their conviction, who want control over your body and your decision-making. The extremists who think persuasion consists of finding the most extreme case and then shouting it, either in words or pictures.
These are the kinds of people you will meet in your careers and in your personal lives, and you must never abandon the power of critical thinking you developed here at Notre Dame.
Just as your leaders here at this institution in the past have invited other Presidents whose beliefs conflict with some of theirs, you must be willing to listen to responsible people who have viewpoints different from yours. You must not shout them down or ridicule them. You must remember that reasonable people can have different points of view, and that sometimes the clash of ideas produces a new and better idea.
You must honor your beliefs, but you must continually examine them in the light of new knowledge you acquire. You must not be afraid of changing your mind, or changing you path, because of the illumination of new ideas, new knowledge, or new experiences. You must seek these new things, not avoid them.
You must remember that in this country, our founders made one of our principal laws the freedom of speech, and you must know that often unpopular speech is that which is in most need of protection. That is why these people who have taken over your campus on this graduation weekend have a right to be heard. You need not honor their beliefs, but you must honor their right to express them.
There is another lesson you can learn from this graduation weekend. More often in life than you probably realize now, the sideshow gets more attention than the main event. Try to keep focused on your mission, whatever it is, and not to be too distracted by the things going on around you.
And as you move forward through life, remember that learning must not stop when you walk across this stage and receive your diploma. This event is an end, and a beginning. Go out and make your mark on the world!