My USA Today Op-Ed About Super Bowl Star Harrison Butker’s Commencement Speech

As published in USA Today on June 17, 2024.

We invited Harrison Butker to speak at our college.
We won’t bow to cancel culture.

Benedictine College is on a mission to transform culture in America, but we didn’t expect one commencement address to put us in the center of our country’s current culture wars. The experience, though, is a good reminder that the mission we have is more important than ever. Let me explain.

Benedictine, the college I serve as president in Atchison, Kansas, was the site of the recent graduation speech by Harrison Butker, kicker of the Kansas City Chiefs. In retrospect, it had all the elements needed to go viral: It was given by the high scorer from the last two Super Bowls who quoted Taylor Swift and offered views on politics, religion and gender roles.

No one expected it to be as big as it became, though. Suddenly the speech and reactions were everywhere. It was the topic of the “Today” show and “Fox & Friends,” “The View” and “The Daily Wire,” NPR and the BBC.

For days, talk shows weighed in nationwide. It seemed that everyone had an opinion, and some of their actions were a surprise. For example, Bill Maher applauded part of the speech on its substance, and Whoopi Goldberg — along with Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid — defended Butker on free speech grounds.

At first, the negative reactions overwhelmed the positive ones. We logged thousands of hateful emails and hours of angry phone calls. More recently, though, positive reactions have surged. Through it all, reporters, callers, friends and foes wanted to know: Do we agree with Harrison Butker’s sentiments?

Universities were not created to be ‘safe spaces’

We decided not to comment publicly on the speech. For one reason, doing so could just incite the haters again.

The other reason is even more significant: The demand that we weigh in on Butker’s speech is exactly the kind of problem Benedictine College hopes to counteract in American culture.

We’ve hosted cardinals and bishops, a U.S. House speaker and a governor, authors and businesspeople, entertainers and athletes. Until this year, no one ever asked us if we shared their views, attacked us for hosting them, or demanded that our commencement speakers be chased from the public square, silenced and fired. This sort of reaction is wrong.

Our history as educators goes back over 1,500 years. Benedictines began schools across Europe for students to share the learning of monks and sisters who are guided by the Rule of St. Benedict, writtenin the sixth century.

From the start, our universities were not created to be “safe spaces” where people cocoon themselves away from ideas that challenge them. They were institutions that guarded their faith fiercely, but where every question was posed and vigorously investigated.

Because of that, after the Roman empire fell, Benedictines transformed Western civilization through their mission of community, faith and scholarship by creating abbeys, liturgy and schools.

Community is the answer to cancel culture

The reaction to Butker’s speech reaffirmed Benedictine College’s commitment to be a university in the full sense of the word. The same Benedictine mission can be just as powerful in America as it was in Europe: Community is the answer to the cancel culture; faith is the answer to the culture of unbelief; and scholarship is the answer to the culture of relativism.

As a Benedictine school, transforming culture is in our DNA, and as a U.S. college, transforming culture is our patriotic duty. St. Pope John Paul II noted that democracies can easily become anti-cultures controlled by “the wishes of the few.”

But, he said, “the United States possesses a safeguard, a great bulwark, against this happening. I speak of your founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. These documents are grounded in and embody unchanging principles of the natural law whose permanent truth and validity can be known by reason, for it is the law written by God in human hearts.”

So Benedictine College is building a new classically designed library reminiscent of Independence Hallin Philadelphia, with a replica of the Assembly Room and the Liberty Bell to teach about the founding principles.

We are in the early stages of a proposed new school of medicine that will enshrine Catholic moral teaching on the infinite dignity of the human person as created by God.

Pope Benedict XVI said the hallmark of a Catholic university is that we share Christ’s love with our students. I tell each professor we hire that here we love our students.

When we do our job right, we educate students in our mission on campus, and then they build community, faith and scholarship in all walks of life, in their neighborhoods and cities.

Benedictine College will continue to work on transforming culture in America, so that one day, all Americans, and not just Super Bowl stars, can be free to speak their minds and engage each other without being shouted down, threatened and intimidated.

I wish we were there already.

Click here for the pdf of this article.

Stephen D. Minnis

A native of St. Joseph, MO, Minnis graduated from Benedictine College in 1982. He obtained his Juris Doctorate degree from Washburn University in 1985 and Master of Business Administration degree in 1993 from Baker University. He served as an Assistant District Attorney and as General Attorney, Director, regulatory policy at Sprint Corporation before becoming President of Benedictine College in 2004.

Since 2004, Benedictine College has seen unprecedented growth. The enrollment has increased from 1,000 students to over 2,000. Benedictine has built 11 new residence hall buildings; six academic buildings; has built new or renovated every dorm room, classroom and athletic facility on campus; a Marian Grotto; opened a campus in Florence, Italy; began a nursing program, an engineering program, and an architecture program making it one of few liberal arts schools and Catholic Schools in America with engineering and architecture.

During his presidency, Benedictine has for the first time been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges and recognized by the Cardinal Newman Society as one of the top 20 Catholic universities in America. Under his leadership, the college has launched the Thompson Center for Integrity in Finance and Economics, the John Paul II Fellows, the Center for Integral Ecology, and the Center for Beauty and Culture. Recently, Benedictine College announced a new vision to Transform Culture in America.

Minnis was a contributing author to Inside the Mind: Achieving Success as a CEO (©2008 Thomson Reuters/Aspatore) and has given numerous talks on spirituality in the workplace and academic freedom to groups across America, including the Heritage Foundation, Legatus, and Catholic Charities. He was one of only five college presidents to be included on the Committee on Catholic Education Ex Corde Ecclesia Working Group in Baltimore in 2012 and he was invited by the Vatican to participate in the 2012 Pontificia Comisión Para América in Rome. In November of 2021, Caritas in Veritate (CiV) honored him as a distinguished leader in the international community and in the Church with the organization’s Papal Award.

Minnis is married to Amy (Kohake), a 1984 graduate of Benedictine College. The couple has three grown children, Matthew (Mary Katherine), Michael (Lauriane) and Molly (Matthew Harrison), and five grandchildren, Joseph, Mary Eleanor, Benedict, Mary Frances, and Mary Catherine.