Sunday, April 15, 2012

Anna Maria College Withraws Kennedy Invitation

by Shannon O'Neill

Vicki Kennedy, widow of the iconic late Senator Ted Kennedy, found herself embroiled in controversy recently after a speaking engagement at Anna Maria College was abruptly canceled. Kennedy was slated to give the commencement address on May 19, 2012, but the invitation was withdrawn per request of Worcester Diocese Bishop McManus. Anna Maria is a small Catholic college, and while representatives from the college expressed that they still wished for Vicki to speak, they rely heavily on donations that come from the Worcester Diocese. Because of this, they felt obligated to appease the Bishop’s request, and reluctantly withdrew Vicki’s invitation.

Bishop McManus felt that although Kennedy is Catholic, her personal views do not keep with the teachings of the Catholic Church strictly enough. While those “views” have been left unsaid, he was presumably referring to her views on abortion, birth control, gay rights, and other social issues. While McManus felt this deemed Kennedy an unfit role model to the Catholic graduates of Anna Maria, other Catholic colleges in Massachusetts have felt differently – Kennedy was given an honorary degree from Emmanuel College in Boston in 2010 and is scheduled to speak at Boston College’s Graduate School commencement this spring. Both Emmanuel and Boston College have stood by their view that Vicki is an admirable role model.

While the controversy has focused primarily on Kennedy and the Catholic Church, little attention has been focused on how students at Anna Maria feel about the turn of events. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, has found the coverage to be a bit of a distraction and said, “There have been news crews all over campus. They’re filming here, but they’re not speaking to students. I don’t know if they’re speaking with administrators or just want their news anchors to be in front of our school just because it looks good, but on the whole students have been ignored.” When asked what she thought about the situation she said, “I think it’s silly. I don’t know much about Vicki Kennedy, but I know she is a Catholic, like me and like most of us here. I don’t agree with all her beliefs, but it’s not like she was going to get to the podium and start pushing her personal beliefs. Mostly, I think it’s embarrassing for the college and the Bishop.”

Some students believe that Vicki should be allowed, but also think it’s best to follow Church leaders. The student government president at Anna Maria, Alicia Savo, said that she was looking forward to hearing Kennedy speak “but [doesn’t] think the Bishop would have said he didn’t think it was a good idea unless it wasn’t a good idea” and that she “understand[s] where he’s coming from.”

Students at Anna Maria have been affected the most by this incident, but students throughout the state find it puzzling. John O’Neill, a political science student at UMass Boston expressed his opinion saying, “On one level, I understand the Church and the college have every right to withdraw the invitation, but I don’t understand why they would want such bad publicity. [Vicki] is a member of one of the most famous Catholic families in politics, and I think having her speak would have sent a much better message than taking back an invitation.” Another UMass Boston student, Elizabeth H., hadn’t heard anything about this incident but was surprised when she heard about it. “I can’t imagine something like that ever happening here at UMass,” she said, “I’m Catholic, but I never thought Catholic colleges or schools were so strict.”

For her part, Kennedy has taken this all in stride. In a public statement she said, “I have great respect and admiration for Anna Maria College and the Class of 2012 and would not want my presence to hurt the school or detract from the graduates’ special day in any way. Nevertheless, I am disheartened by this entire turn of events.”

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