Some Notre Dame students were disappointed when, after working hard for four years, they learned they were about to be gifted with Vice President Mike Pence as their commencement speaker. USA Today reported that “When Notre Dame announced that Pence would be the 2017 graduation speaker in March, the student organization WeStaNDFor began brainstorming ways to take a stand.” Weeks ago, these students announced that they would stage a walkout at graduation in protest.
At the ceremony on Sunday, Pence started his speech, which was heavy on thoughts about free expression:
Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed, where opposing views are debated, and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear.
Soon after Pence started speaking, about 100 students, in video that popped up on several outlets over the weekend, calmly walked straight out of the ceremony along with their parents. Since college graduation is one of those milestone moments of life, you have to hand it to these grads to give that up in favor of making a significant and well-publicized protest.
Some were not in favor of the protest at the predominantly Catholic university, however. One parent told USA Today, “We think it’s disrespectful. It’s so unnecessary. This is a good man who is coming here for graduation. I think better of Notre Dame students that they’d do this kind of thing.” Former student body president Bryan Ricketts, on the other hand, told The Indianapolis Star that it was “a wonderful show of solidarity.”
These Notre Dame students may have felt even more impassioned about speaking up since Notre Dame is located in South Bend, Indiana, the state where Pence was governor for four years. Organizer April Lidinsky of Planned Parenthood and the Indiana Reproduction Justice Coalition told USA Today: “We are not protesting their choice of a commencement speaker. We are unwelcoming Mike Pence back to Indiana with the idea that nobody knows Pence’s record as well as Hoosiers do.”