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Students speak out on Harrison Butker’s ‘uncomfortable’ commencement address

In World
May 18, 2024

Harrison Butker’s commencement speech last weekend left some graduates at Benedictine College outraged after the Kansas City Chiefs kicker asserted that one of the “most important” roles for a woman is being a homemaker and that Pride Month is an example of “deadly sin.”

In the six days since the address, neither Butker, 28, nor the small Catholic school have commented publicly about the backlash — and graduates who attended the ceremony have been left to grapple with the fallout.

Kyra Misuraca, a 22-year-old graphic design major, said she was shocked that Butker used the speech to address gender roles instead of encouraging her and other graduating women to follow their dreams.

“My jaw dropped at one point,” said another student, 21-year-old Susannah Leisegang, who also graduated with a graphic design degree. “It was just very uncomfortable, and I was looking back and forth at some of my friends and we were like, this is just not the time and place for this at all.”

Mary Aaker, who graduated from Benedictine in 2019, said Butker’s remarks were “disheartening.”

“All of that was boiled down to, ‘I bet you’re most excited to go out and start a family,’” she said on NBC’s “TODAY” show.

Butker used the speech to rail against President Joe Biden, abortion, IVF and the response to Covid-19. At one point, while criticizing a media report that mentioned the college, he said that students at the school felt “excitement and pride. Not the deadly sin sort of pride that has an entire month dedicated to it, but the true God-centered pride that is cooperating with the Holy Ghost to glorify him.”

Roughly 12 minutes into the speech, Butker addressed the graduating women directly and said that “the most diabolical lies” had been told to them.

“How many of you are sitting here now, about to cross this stage, and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world. But I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.”

Butker invoked his own success and attributed it to his wife, whom he said had converted to Catholicism, married him and “embraced one of the most important titles of all — homemaker,” he said.

The line drew applause, but Misuraca said all the women sitting around her audibly gasped.

“I was very irritated that he would say that to a bunch of women who are graduating college with a degree in something that they’re passionate about,” she said.

But to another student in attendance, the outrage over the comment is misplaced. The student, who declined to be interviewed by phone but corresponded with NBC News via text and social media, said that he didn’t believe Butker’s comments should be interpreted as telling female students they should quit their jobs and become homemakers.

“Harrison said that women should appreciate the role of motherhood” more than they care about their jobs, he said.

“I don’t agree with everything he said but it’s also abundantly clear that everyone mad online didn’t listen to the whole speech and are taking things out of context,” he added. “I think the backlash is ridiculous; he was invited to speak at our small Catholic college where getting engaged/married right after college is a regular occurrence. He knew his audience and people on Instagram and X shouldn’t be mad about something they weren’t the target audience for.”

Misuraca took issue with that description of the school. She said the college regularly recruits athletes — she attended on a basketball scholarship — who are non-Catholic or “barely” Catholic.

“Obviously, we come in knowing that it is a Catholic school and we are going to be around a lot of Catholic beliefs and we aren’t Catholic, so we can’t really say you’re wrong, because that’s what you believe,” she said. “You can’t really turn around and tell us what we believe.”

The Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, a founding institution and sponsor of the college, said Butker’s comments do not represent the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts college that our founders envisioned and in which we have been so invested.”

“Instead of promoting unity in our church, our nation, and the world, his comments seem to have fostered division,” an online statement reads.

At the end of Butker’s speech, there was applause and many in the crowd rose to their feet.

But Misuraca said she remained seated and booed. Leisegang also booed. They both said they hoped that school administrators would eventually address graduates about the controversy.

Misuraca said an explanation would be appreciated, though she said ultimately it was Butker who delivered the speech, not a school official. Leisegang went further saying she wants an apology and that Butker’s speech had overshadowed the day’s importance.

“There were women walking across the stage with children in their hands, earning their degrees,” she said. “And just to hear that — like, of course, his wife can become a homemaker. You’re a millionaire. But that’s not the reality for a lot of the country that we live in.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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