When it was first announced that Vice President Mike Pence would be the speaker of note at the commencement ceremony for graduates of the University of Notre Dame, plenty of students’ first impulse was not to attend. But that would be letting the political Right rob them of a day meant to honor them and their accomplishments. So they went, and with a silent, peaceful walkout, let him know that that day belonged to them, not him.
Of the nearly 150 students who walked out on Pence’s speech, many were Latino, LGBT, or other minorities. Their carefully organized protest was a commentary on Pence and his running mate’s denigration of their contributions to this country. Pence stood at Trump’s shoulder while he said that Mexican immigrants were violent, and campaigned in his own state to turn away refugees and for dangerous “conversion therapy” to be imposed on LGBT minors against their consent.
Notre Dame is a Catholic school, but its student body trends away from religious conservatism. The organizers of this protest cited Pope Francis’s examples in supporting refugees and immigrants, respecting the humanity of groups one doesn’t understand, and bringing down walls.
Pence’s speech was, by all accounts, not much to miss. He quickly got a token praise of the venerated school out of the way and set to denigrating “political correctness” in universities, insulting the very generation of students he was invited there to celebrate. While he was complaining to an audience there to be honored, not one protester interfered with his free speech. They only exercised their right not to hear it. The part of the audience who booed them was the only thing that silenced the Vice President.
“Of course we welcome and support free speech on campus,” Luis Miranda, a master’s graduate and one of those who walked out, told the New York Times. “But commencement is not a moment for academic exchange or political dialogue. It’s a celebration of all of our hard work.”
Photo: University of Notre Dame campus. Credit: Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com