Identity through Controversy Lenses

Authored by Darya Zvonareva

Photograph of Hillary Clinton, May 20, 2005

On May 20 2005 Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton received an honorary doctoral degree at Marymount Manhattan College (MMC) and gave the commencement keynote address during the liberal arts institution’s graduation ceremony. The date turned out to be a pivotal moment in the history of MMC that was officially de-Catholicized.

MMC was established as Catholic in 1936 by an order of nuns called the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary but MMC denounced religious affiliation in the late 1960s. The support for abortion rights by the senator and another alumni Elliott Spitzer’ whose commencement speech was protested in 2004 for the same pro-choice reason caught the attention of the Cardinal Newman Society and resulted in public action to cease its relation to the Roman Catholic Church (Catholic Exchange 2005). Ironically, the former New York Attorney General Elliott Spitzer was also involved in sex scandal later in 2008 that forced him from the governorship (Vincent 2018).

The outstanding personalities of honor alumni and their public statements can be used to censor academic freedom or involve any one university in scandal. The question still remains to what extend the institution identity is potentially affected with the growing pressure on their reputation.

The many intersections between politics, ethics, morals, and culture create the nexus of social relationships. In his response MMC President Judson R. Shaver stressed on the value and socially driven mission to educate people “to wrestle with the issues with integrity and for the betterment of society” (Griffith, n.d.). The unbiased mission of educators is to honor students whose experience and motivation enriches the college and beyond community (Willens 2013). The free exchange of ideas and protection of inclusivity are rooted as values and strengths of MMC which is committed to advance social justice and academic quality. Regardless of the secular status and liberal views MMC respects and honors the dignity of every human being, and their meaningful contribution that are among Vincentian fundamental values (St. John’s University 2021). Thus, the culture of leadership and the heritage of academic excellence serve as natural protection from negative effects and enemies, and foster the long-term meaningful connections.


Vincent, Isabel. 2018. “How Eliot Spitzer’s penchant for illicit sex caused his downfall.” New-York Post, March 10, 2018.

Kiley Griffith. n.d. “Rebel College”: A Radical History of Marymount Manhattan College,” Accessed March 1, 2021.

Catholic Exchange. 2005. “Marymount Manhattan College Declared Not Catholic.” Catholic Exchange, May 9, 2005.

Willens, Michele. 2013. “What It’s Like to Be a Middle-Aged College Student.” Atlantic Online, November 22, 2013.

St. John’s University. 2021. “Vincentian Heritage,” Last modified 2021.