Over 100 students leave graduation in protest of Pence’s commencement speech
When Vice President Mike Pence stepped on stage to speak during graduation at Notre Dame this weekend, over 100 students immediately rose from their chairs. But they didn’t get up to give him a standing ovation. Instead, these graduates left the ceremony in silent protest of Pence and everything he stands for.
Typically, the newly elected President is invited to give the commencement speech at Notre Dame, a Catholic university. But after over two thousand students and faculty members signed a petition asking university president Rev. John Jenkins not to invite Trump, the offer was extended to Pence, the former Governor of Indiana.
The protest was organized by the student group We StaND For. They made an effort to be as respectful as possible with their protest. Paul Browne, a spokesperson for Notre Dame, told CNN the students who planned the walkout were in contact with both police and school administrators before graduation. “We’re not concerned,” Browne said before commencement. “We think they will be respectful in the way they express their differences with the administration.”
— We StaND For (@WeStandForND) May 15, 2017
The student group explained their reasons for staging the walkout in a press release. They cite Pence’s official attempts to interfere with the civil rights and protections of LGBT+ community members, his support of Trump’s travel ban, his fight against sanctuary cities and the fact that he rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program. “All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color or sexual orientation,” We StaND For says. The protest was designed to be respectful of those with whom they disagreed while also allowing them to “stand in solidarity with the vulnerable.”
While Pence did not directly address those students who left at the start of his speech, he did express dissatisfaction with the fact that some college campuses across the nation offer trigger warnings and have started to crack down on hate speech masquerading as free speech. “Far too many campuses across America have been characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness all of which amounts to nothing less than the suppression of the freedom of speech,” Pence said during his commencement address. If this comment was aimed as an insult against the students who walked, it failed spectacularly.
First, they weren’t even there to hear it. Solid burn, Pence. But more importantly, the right to peaceful protest is one of the core protections provided to U.S. citizens in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”
These students notified the campus of their intent to protest, and did so in a way that was peaceful and as non-disruptive to the commencement ceremonies as possible. This isn’t a display of students being “politically correct” or acting like “liberal snowflakes.” This is our democracy in action.
— Meredith Meagher (@Meredithistory) May 21, 2017
Pence was the last speaker on the program. Those students who walked out were not allowed to return to commencement, meaning they missed the traditional tassel turning that signifies a student is officially a graduate. But even without that, it’s obvious these students learned important lessons in strength, courage and standing up for what they believe in during their time at Notre Dame.