It was the first official recognition of this day on campus, following a bill passed last December which requires every school receiving federal funds to observe Constitution Day by holding educational programs about the United States Constitution.
Constitution Day celebrates Sept. 17, 1787, the day the United States Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. When this day falls on a weekend as it did this year, schools have the option to celebrate it the next week, as St. Olaf did with its event.
In an e-mail to the student body announcing the Constitution Day festivities, President Christopher Thomforde noted, "One of the great privileges and responsibilities we share in living in the United States is the Constitution. This great document sets forth procedures by which we govern ourselves and, in so doing, sets forth many of the values we affirm and celebrate as a nation as well."
Thomforde and Dean and Provost of the College James May introduced Umbanhowar as the inaugural speaker of what will become an annual celebration at St. Olaf. Students and faculty filled the Gold Ballroom to hear Umbanhowar speak on "Commemorating the Sept. 17, 1787 Signing of the Constitution."
In his speech, Umbanhowar described the Constitution's history and explained its interpretation by various groups. He discussed the Constitution as a document that maintains the habits of Americans as a people.
He noted how important it is to Americans to have a written Constitution, especially after being subject to an unwritten constitution under the British.
According to Umbanhowar, the Constitution comes under great scrutiny during times of war. He listed U.S. presidents from Lincoln to Bush as examples of presidents who struggled with national security and personal freedom issues in relation to the constitution during times of war.
He also discussed how a declaration of war has changed significantly since the signing of the Constitution, expressing his belief that "an intelligent, informed, non-biased Supreme Court performing at its best" helps the Constitution survive wartime.
A question and answer session followed Umbanhowar's talk, during which Umbanhowar discussed his view that Supreme Court selections should be different from political elections. He also named National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg as a reporter on Supreme Court issues that students could listen to for an explanation of the court's happenings.
After his talk, Umbanhowar shared one goal of his speech, a desire for people to gain "an appreciation for the Constitution outside of their personal views on how it should interpreted."
Abby Hindt '06 said that Umbanhowar "did a good job of making the Constitution and the issues it presents accessible to college students."
The call for a widespread observance of Constitution Day in schools across the nation was largely guided by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. Byrd has often appeared in the media with a copy of the Constitution in his pocket, lamenting studies that show how little Americans know about the document. By honoring Constitution Day, St. Olaf hopes to spread awareness and appreciation for the Constitution.