The University of Notre Dame was only one of hundreds of colleges across the country holding graduation ceremonies this past weekend, but ND’s ceremony was about more than just happiness, relief, and pride: it was also about a major political statement. On Sunday, May 21, 2017, more than 100 students marched out of the Notre Dame graduation ceremony in peaceful protest of Vice President Mike Pence’s commencement speech. The protest sparked national attention, prompting supporters to applaud the students for standing up for what they believe in, but receiving heavy criticism from those who thought Pence deserved to be there.
The Vice President was selected to give the commencement speech after the school decided to pass on President Donald Trump – Notre Dame usually invites new presidents to give this speech, but decided not to due to a huge petition signed by thousands of students and faculty. Strange, then, that they thought anyone would be any happier with Pence being there, but maybe that’s beside the point. The school also knew that the protest was going to happen, and according to The Washington Post, “Paul Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications, said Notre Dame has been the site of protests of presidents and vice presidents in the past, and as long as the students did not disrupt the ceremony, it would be allowed to take place.”
This is indeed what happened: once Pence started speaking, students quietly stood up, then quietly marched out. As you can see in the video below, there was some light cheering and booing, after which Pence went back to his speech, which included things like stating colleges had to be less politically correct. According to Politico, he said, “While this institution has maintained an atmosphere of civility and open debate, far too many campuses across America have become characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness – all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech.”
— WNDU (@WNDU) May 21, 2017
So, why did the student protest the Vice President and his speech? The group behind it, called We StaND For, released a statement saying this:
“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and fought against sanctuary cities. All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.”
Some students did more than just walk out: according to the Huffington Post, one student worse a rainbow cape and several others put rainbow flags on their graduation caps. Pence is known for his strict stance on anti-LGBTQ rights.
Reactions to the protest were mixed. Pence did not acknowledge the students leaving the ceremony, although he did state at one point in his speech, “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.” Some parents and family members left with the students in a show of solidarity. On social media, there were two obvious teams: Team Protestors and Team Pence. Among notable responses, Tomi Lahren, who was recently let go from her position at The Blaze for her comments supporting pro-choice sentiments, said this:
Snowflakes think this kind of crap will fly in the real world? Good luck holding a job, kids! https://t.co/O19otIrW77
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) May 22, 2017
Aside from being incredibly hypocritical (let me remind you that Tomi lost her job for stating her opinion), it is also not true. Peaceful protests are an important way to speak up, and being involved in one does not make a person seem less desirable as an employee.
One Notre Dame faculty member had this response, which sums things up pretty well:
Protests for commencement speakers are nothing new – President Barack Obama’s commencement speech was protested because of his support of abortion, and Betsy Devos’ commencement speech just recently was heavily protested. This one, though, seemed to really strike a chord in our politically tense current environment. This definitely won’t be the last of its kind.
What do you think about the protest at Notre Dame? Would you have joined the protest or not? Tell us in the comments.