How To Apologize

November 9, 2010

In our media-saturated age, the public apology has become so commonplace as to be a cliché. These apologies are usually delivered in such a way as to deflect blame (“I’m sorry if anyone was offended”) or to avoid any admission of responsibility that could be used in a legal proceeding.

John Jenkins

The Rev. John Jenkins

That’s why I was so impressed — moved, even — by the simple and direct apology delivered by the president of the University of Notre Dame last week. The Rev. John Jenkins expressed his regret for the death of a student videographer, 20-year-old Declan Sullivan, who was killed when the scissor lift he was on toppled over in high winds as Sullivan was filming a football practice.

“Declan Sullivan was entrusted to our care, and we failed to keep him safe,” Jenkins wrote in an open letter to the university community. “We at Notre Dame, and ultimately I, as president, are responsible. Words cannot express our sorrow to the Sullivan family and to all involved.”

I’m sure that letter caused a collective heart attack among Notre Dame’s legal staff. But Jenkins is answering to a higher judge — and his heartfelt statement was the right response to this tragedy.