Revisiting Reagan’s Commencement Address at Notre Dame

On Sunday, Joe Biden gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College, a historically black male college in Atlanta. Rather than use the moment to inspire the graduating class and provide them with life advice or any sort of wisdom, Biden instead chose to turn it into a highly divisive, racially inflammatory, and anti-American campaign speech—in a pathetic attempt to regain his rapidly diminishing support within the black community.

He called for “an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, undermining Israel’s ability to defeat that savage terrorist group yet again. He slammed America as “systemically racist.” He warned the audience about the supposed threat of “white supremacy.” He insinuated that black men are randomly “being killed” by cops in the streets—a specious charge not backed by any data—and he uttered this rather remarkable line to the graduating class: “what does it mean, as we’ve heard before, to be a black man who loves his country even if it doesn’t love him back in equal measure?”

Yes, the president of the United States told a group of young black male graduates that the country they live in—and the one he is supposedly in charge of—does not love them. How inspiring.

But rather than spend anymore ink dissecting what was truly a despicable and grotesque speech by a reprehensible man, it is important to remember what a real commencement address delivered by a real president, who isn’t trying to score cheap political points, should look and sound like.

Almost 43 years to the day before Biden’s shameful remarks at Morehouse College, President Ronald Reagan delivered the commencement address at Notre Dame University on May 17, 1981.

The contrast between the two speeches could not have been more stark. Reagan spoke excitedly of a country that he was proud to be a citizen and leader of. It was also Reagan’s first public appearance since being shot nearly six weeks earlier.

As was typical of Reagan, it was full of humor and self-deprecation.

“The distinguished honor that you’ve conferred upon me here today, I must say, however, compounds a sense of guilt that I have nursed for almost 50 years. I thought the first degree I was given was honorary,” Reagan said to laughter.

Reagan of course fondly mentioned his role in the classic film and true story “Knute Rockne, All American,” in which he played George Gipp, a star halfback at Notre Dame who died tragically of pneumonia but whose legacy would endure forever. Reagan was drawn to the role in part because it spoke to him about what it means to be an American.

“First, Knute Rockne as a boy, came to America with his parents from Norway. And in the few years it took him to grow up to college age, he became so American that here at Notre Dame, he became an All American in a game that is still, to this day, uniquely American.”

Reagan spoke warmly about our country’s exceptionalism and our Founding Fathers’ passionate embrace of the cause of freedom:

“They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Sixteen of them gave their lives. Most gave their fortunes. All preserved their sacred honor,” Reagan said. “They gave us more than a nation. They brought to all mankind for the first time the concept that man was born free, that each of us has inalienable rights, ours by the grace of God, and that government was created by us for our convenience, having only the powers that we choose to give it.”

Reagan also warned about the dangers of government tyranny, and he emphasized not only the opportunities that this great country had given him, but he spoke of the many opportunities that the recent graduates would soon have themselves:

“For too long, government has been fixing things that aren’t broken and inventing miracle cures for unknown diseases,” Reagan said. “Now, I know that this period of your life, you have been and are critically looking at the mores and customs of the past and questioning their value. Every generation does that. May I suggest, don’t discard the time-tested values upon which civilization was built simply because they’re old? More important, don’t let today’s doomcriers and cynics persuade you that the best is past, that from here on it’s all downhill. Each generation sees farther than the generation that preceded it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You’re going to have opportunities beyond anything that we’ve ever known.”

Reagan also understood the importance of protecting and preserving private institutions from being heavily influenced by federal tax dollars, radical teachers unions and leftist governments that seek to indoctrinate our children with divisive anti-American propaganda that diminishes our culture, distorts our history and seeks only to further divide us.

“I hope when you leave this campus that you will do so with a feeling of obligation to your alma mater. She will need your help and support in the years to come,” Reagan said. “If ever the great independent colleges and universities like Notre Dame give way to and are replaced by tax-supported institutions, the struggle to preserve academic freedom will have been lost.”

Sadly, the cat may already be out of the bag. Otherwise, we would not be seeing so many ignorant, brainless, and truly freakish creatures parading around our colleges and universities—spewing Marxist, anti-American and pro-Hamas propaganda.

As Reagan closed out his remarks to the 1981 graduating class of Notre Dame, he asked them to do one thing.

“I have one more hope for you: when you do speak to the next generation about these things, that you will always be able to speak of an America that is strong and free, to find in your hearts an unbounded pride in this much-loved country, this once and future land, this bright and hopeful nation whose generous spirit and great ideals the world still honors.”

The last three and a half years have felt like such an eternity; it’s hard to remember what it sounded like to have a president who cherished his American heritage and spoke with such joy and admiration about why this is the greatest country on the face of the earth.

Hopefully, we will have a president like that again very soon.

David Keltz is the author of “The Campaign of his Life” and “Media Bias in the Trump Presidency and the Extinction of the Conservative Millennial.” His writing has been published in The American Spectator, RealClearPolitics, American Greatness, the Federalist, the American Thinker, and the New York Daily News, among other publications.

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