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Pomp. Circumstance. Controversy.

A Conversation With E. Brennan Bollman Notre Dame valedictorian

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Friday, May 8, 2009; 8:17 PM

Pomp. Circumstance. Antiabortion banners. National news organizations clamoring to cover a controversy. Oh yeah, and the president of the United States. Happy graduation, Notre Dame class of 2009. A week from today, in his second commencement address of the season, Barack Obama will share the stage with E. Brennan Bollman, valedictorian of the graduating class. She spoke with Outlook's Rachel Dry about the debate surrounding a pro-abortion rights politician's appearance in South Bend, how she's using Obama's past speeches to prepare for her own and why her classmates aren't totally freaked out by the job market they're entering. Excerpts:

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So the president of the United States is going to hear you give your valedictory address.

Yeah, that's what everyone keeps telling me. "President Barack Obama will be listening to you." I said, well, you know, I wouldn't blame him if his mind wandered a little bit. He does have a lot going on.

Does it change how you're thinking about the speech?

No, not at all. The core message is really a simple thing that my parents have always told me: From those to whom much is given, much is expected. I'll talk about the things that Notre Dame has given us and what's expected of us because of that.

Do you speak before the president does?

I'm pretty positive that I go before. Which is good, because it would be pretty difficult to speak after President Obama. Actually, I've been listening to some of his speeches as I'm practicing. By no means could I expect to deliver a speech as well as he can. He's had years of practice and is obviously phenomenal. But he has a certain presence and a cadence that I hope to at least try to work for, a little bit.

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