President Barack Obama put the University of Notre Dame in the headlines (and vice versa) this past spring when he was invited as the speaker for the 2009 commencement exercices.
The university (such as it was) was much smaller in 1865 but it secured one of the most popular of the country's citizens to speak at its commencement that year: William T. Sherman! The victorious Union general had come to northwestern Indiana to gather up his family (his wife, Ellen, was living in South Bend and his children were attending Notre Dame and St. Mary's as grammar school students).
His remarks were extemporaneous but no less inspiring for the graduates in attendance, including these stirring words:
"So I call upon theyoung men here to be ready at all times to perform bravely the battle of life. We might never have to go to war anymore on this continent but then again we might. War is possible and we must be ready for that contingency. But more than this I want to say that there is a kind of war which is inevitable to all - it is the war of life. A young man should always stand in his armor, with his sword in hand an his buckler on. Life is only another kind of battle and it requires as good as generalship to conduct it to a successful end as it did to conquer a city, or to march through Georgia."
Sherman's speech is the first of many in a wonderful book: Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses by Fr. William D. Miscamble (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003). It includes more than two dozen addresses from 1865 through 2001.
Look for Sherman's entire commencement address - and learn more about the Sherman family and Notre dame - in my book Notre Dame in the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory, coming from The History Press in late 2010!