This Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence gave a commencement address to the University of Notre Dame in his home state of Indiana. During his speech, he called the university a “vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas.” 100 graduates illustrated his point by quietly walking out during his speech.
Although the departing students only represented 3% of the 3,171 graduates, their protest still made national headlines. It was planned by WeStaNDFor, a student organization that released a statement two weeks ago protesting the Vice President’s selection as commencement speaker. WeStaNDFor alerted the school about their protest.
The organization’s statement said:
During his tenure as Governor of Indiana, Pence pursued policies that harmed the most vulnerable citizens of the state. He cut funding for public health interventions and delayed in removing a ban on needle exchange programs, leading to the worst HIV outbreak in state history; proposed to turn away refugee families fleeing war and violence and withheld aid and state services to resettled Syrians; signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act discriminating against members of the LGBTQ community, while endorsing conversion therapy programs; and ignored lead contamination in the predominantly African-American city of East Chicago. Now, in the White House, he tacitly approves President Trump’s unjust policies toward refugees and immigrants.
Approximately 1,700 Notre Dame graduates signed onto their public statement.
As students left, Pence spoke for 15 minutes about free speech at universities. He said, “Free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America,” and condemned schools where there are “safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness, all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech.”
He added, “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.”
Interestingly, WeStaNDFor wasn’t the only organization protesting Pence. Several local activist groups protested the Vice President on the south side of campus including 300 combined protestors from the human rights group We Go High!, the Michiana Alliance for Democracy, Planned Parenthood and the Indiana Reproductive Justice Coalition.
You can watch video of the walkout below:
Comments made onstage by Notre Dame’s valedictorian and the university’s president also seemed to knock aspects of the Trump agenda. USA Today reports:
“Standing feet away from Pence, [valedictorian C.J. Pine] told anecdotes of time spent with Syrian refugees and called for freedom of religion and equal rights… University president Father John I. Jenkins… described America as a ‘fractured nation’ and stressed that ‘we must support our LGBT sisters and brothers and respect freedom of religion.'”
Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend where Notre Dame University is located, said that he supported the student protest. Conservatives protested former President Barack Obama’s presence at Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement over his stances on abortion and stem-cell research.
Students at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida protested another Trump administration official earlier this month by turning their backs on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during commencement speech.Notre Dame Graduates Stage a Walk Out During Mike Pence’s Commencement Speech
(Featured image by fstop123 via iStock Photography)