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May 18th, 2009
09:42 AM ET

Obama a Champion at Notre Dame

People pray at the University of Notre Dame to protest Obama's commencement address.

People pray at the University of Notre Dame to protest Obama's commencement address.

Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
AC360° Contributor

One concrete result of the controversy at Notre Dame this weekend was a much larger audience for President Obama's Commencement Address. What we witnessed was a near perfect demonstration of public leadership in an environment of polarization. Obama is at his best when others are squabbling and he plays the role of saying, "We can do better than this."

I confess to a special interest. I owe my American citizenship to Notre Dame. The University accepted my father's application to its MBA program thirty years ago (at the time, he was one of only a handful of international students on campus, and doubly in the minority as a Muslim). He loves the University with all his heart – it was his gateway to America. I grew up watching Notre Dame football players touch the yellow "Play Like a Champion Today" sign as they ran out of the locker room onto the field. The President must have touched that sign before his speech, because it was worthy of all those great Notre Dame legends, from Knute Rockne to Joe Montana to Touchdown Jesus.

Harvard scholar Howard Gardener says that the most important thing that leaders do is tell a new story about the possibility of the world, and then embody it themselves. Obama accomplished that masterfully in three basic steps in his speech.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Eboo Patel • President Barack Obama • Religion
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