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In protest, students walk out on Mike Pence’s Notre Dame commencement speech

Vice President Mike Pence gives the commencement address May 21, 2017, at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Screen grab via nd.edu

Vice President Mike Pence gives the commencement address May 21, 2017, at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Screen grab via nd.edu

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (USA Today) When Mike Pence took the stage at Notre Dame’s commencement on Sunday (May 21), more than 100 students quietly got up from their seats and left. There were a few cheers. Some boos.

This was not a surprise, but rather a staged protest some students had been planning for weeks. When Notre Dame announced in March that the vice president and former governor of Indiana would be the university’s 2017 graduation speaker, the student organization WeStaNDFor began brainstorming ways to take a stand.

Bryan Ricketts, who served as Notre Dame’s student body president from 2015-16 and graduated Sunday with a dual degree in political science and chemical engineering, was one of the leaders. Ricketts told IndyStar that many of his peers were “upset and hurt” by the school’s decision to invite Pence because his “policies have impacted the humanity of certain graduates.”

About 100-plus students filed out of gates 27 and 28 of Notre Dame Stadium. They knew that once they left graduation, they would not be able to re-enter.

WeStaNDFor explained in a release that its members are primarily protesting Pence’s opposition to gay rights, his attempts as governor to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in Indiana, his support of President Trump’s immigration travel ban and his opposition to sanctuary cities that do not enforce federal immigration laws.

The group posted instructions for how to walk out on its website:

“Walk away from Pence quietly, in confidence, with your head up high, taking your time. Embrace the moment, maybe even hold hands/lock arms with those joining you.”

Students had previously met with the Notre Dame police chief to figure out the most peaceful and “respectful” way to exit the stadium, Ricketts said. The university was aware of the protests ahead of time. Paul Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications, said in a statement that university officials would only intervene “if the ceremony was seriously disrupted or anyone’s safety was put at risk.”

“I think it’s a disgrace,” said Nataline Duffy, who was in attendance with her husband, Thomas, from New Jersey to watch their son graduate. “We think it’s in poor taste. We think it’s disrespectful. It’s so unnecessary. This is a good man who is coming here for graduation.

“I wonder about this new generation, how they do this kind of thing. And I think better of Notre Dame students that they’d do this kind of thing. But it’s a very small group. I don’t think they represent Notre Dame at all.”

Duffy said her son, who graduated from a five-year MBA computer science program, did not participate in the walkout and did not know any students protesting.

Before the walkout, valedictorian C.J. Pine gave a powerful speech about his time in South Bend. Born in the United States, he was raised in Tianjin, China, and studied abroad in Israel and Jordan. Standing feet away from Pence, he told anecdotes of experiences with Syrian refugees, called for freedom of religion and equal rights. He organized the student advocacy group Solidarity with Syria and an awareness campaign directed to counter Islamophobia on campus.

He cited those experiences as well as his passion for current affairs in his speech.

“If we are going to build walls against American students and international students, then I am skewered on the fence,” he said.

Pine received a standing ovation. After graduation, he plans to work for the State Department in Washington.

Ricketts said he received a little hate mail leading up to the walkout.

“I think people are upset we’re protesting at all,” he said. “But I have to say, it’s important for people to be able to speak their minds. Protests during (President Barack) Obama’s commencement (in 2009) ruined graduation weekend for some people and we want to be respectful of everybody who is attending the weekend.”

There were also protests just south of campus by local activist groups. Among those represented were We Go High!, a human rights group formed after Donald Trump was elected, the Michiana Alliance for Democracy, Planned Parenthood and the Indiana Reproductive Justice Coalition. About 300 people chanted: “Love, not hate, makes America great.”

“We are not protesting their choice of a commencement speaker,” said organizer April Lidinsky of Planned Parenthood and the IRJC. “We are unwelcoming Mike Pence back to Indiana with the idea that nobody knows Pence’s record as well as Hoosiers do.”

Student protests against Pence coming to commencement began in late April. Ricketts and others distributed 500 rainbow pride flags around campus that had been donated by alumni. WeStaNDFor created a Facebook page for the event and urged students to hang flags from their windows to demonstrate solidarity against Pence’s address.

“The flag drop was round one,” Ricketts said. “We felt after that, we should have something at graduation. Something respectful.”

Pence opposition was felt near campus hours before the vice president arrived in South Bend. A large sign that said “Welcome election conspirators” with the communist symbol of a hammer and sickle appeared just off State Road 23 early Saturday morning.

Notre Dame announced in March that it had invited Pence, who was raised Catholic, to speak at graduation instead of Trump. Notre Dame has a strong tradition of inviting newly inaugurated presidents to speak at commencement, and six have accepted: Dwight Eisenhower (1960), Jimmy Carter (1977), Ronald Reagan (1981), George H.W. Bush (1992), George W. Bush (2001) and Barack Obama (2009).


RELATED: Notre Dame avoids Trump controversy as Pence to receive honorary degree


Pence, who served as Indiana’s governor for four years, is the first vice president to give a commencement address at Notre Dame. He also received an honorary degree. His mother, Nancy, was in attendance.

“It is fitting that in the 175th year of our founding on Indiana soil that Notre Dame recognize a native son who served our state and now the nation with quiet earnestness, moral conviction and a dedication to the common good characteristic of a true statesman,” the Rev. John Jenkins, university president, said in a statement at the time Pence was announced as speaker.

Jenkins has been critical of Trump’s position on immigration. On Jan. 29, the school released a statement in which Jenkins urged Trump to rescind an executive order that banned entry to the United State of refugees, migrants and green-card holders from seven mostly Muslim countries.

As governor, Pence tried to block state agencies from helping Syrian refugees resettle in Indiana.

This wasn’t the first time a politician has faced protests at Notre Dame commencement.

In 2009, conservatives protested Obama’s graduation speech because they disapproved of his support of abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research.

There were also peaceful protests outside Pence’s commencement speech on Saturday afternoon at Grove City College near Pittsburgh.

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Laken Litman

63 Comments

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  • Pope Francis spoke about the same “religious liberty” as Pence at the White House and Independence Hall while in the U.S.
    In Dec., the pope issued another decree that men with “deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” couldn’t be priests reaffirming that “this inclination is objectively disordered.” This pope called same-sex marriage an “anthropological regression.” Pope Francis held an anti-gay-marriage conference in 2014.
    On May 13, Pope Francis had some agreement with Trump on border policy. “Yes, each country has the right to control its borders, who comes and who goes, and those countries at risk – from terrorism or such things – have even more the right to control them more.” The week before the U.S. elections, the pope said, “The migrant must be treated with certain rules, because to emigrate is a right, but it is a very regulated right.
    Putin credited Pope Francis “for stopping the military action” considered by Pres. Obama and “with being decisive in halting the momentum with the G8 towards supporting the initiative.”The pope “advanced a resolution that favored the interests of both Assad and Putin …. Putin certainly regarded [Obama’s failure in Syria] as a major victory. He immediately began to flex Moscow’s muscles in Ukraine, directing his ally there to abandon a proposed agreement with the European Union in favor of an alliance with Russia and Belarus.

  • I am grateful to the students who plan on a smart, principled response to Pence’s appearance.

  • What ever. I will not be there, I know no one there (or has even ever been there), and they can walk out, it does not change a thing and will be forgotten once they are gone. Irrelevant!

  • I don’t like the fact that Pence was invited to speak at all – BUT it is consistent with this universities past in asking controversial speakers. At least is was not Trump. Pence is only an also ran on the list of those who are prominent in political circles and really narrow human beings.

    I do wish they had not given him an honorary degree. Can they just drop that ridiculous puffing up of people, especially if their past isn’t all that “honorary” by the standards of the institution? I felt the same way about the honorary degree given DeVos.

  • President Obama declared December 31, 2013 in Kansas speech that “You Don’t Deserve To Be Free”. He was calling for more government controls, more taxation, more collectivism. Notre Dame students after walking then declared they want to work in the very corporation that they turned there back on. What is wrong with this picture! What where they doing for the last forgoing years of their education…

  • You could start by not mischaracterizing with your own ideoLogical slant
    what Mr. Obama actually said. As for more taxation, blame the republicans. They have been in control for quite some time

  • Cool. Good for them to show moral fiber in the face of pure infamy. Pence represents the worst of American social intolerance and hypocrisy.

  • The hate President Obama mantra is wearing thin. It just tells the average American that you are a social bigot, wrapping yourself in the Stars and Bars as if the colors of the Confederacy were a fit substitute for Old Glory. If the “devil made you do it,” that would be POTUS #45, not #44.

  • Do the Repugs really believe they can use this tired old lie forever? Will they blame 45’s removal from office as “Obama’s fault”? Get real & get a life.

  • The protesters (who are slimy and malodorous but still deserve a lot of credit for not acting like the toilet-brain Berkeley bums), did *their* thing.
    First Amendment rights, okay.

    But Mike Pence (who has already proven he’s totally qualified for both Vice-President and President) was cool all the way, did *his* thing, a very powerful speech.
    First Amendment rights again, okay.

  • Maybe cool in the eyes of fellow students, but it demonstrates a narrow-mindedness that is uncharacteristic of college-educated adults. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the speaker’s views, a well-educated, open-minded person listens, considers, analyzes, debates at a later time, perhaps, but DOES NOT simply walk away, unwilling to consider an alternate viewpoint. This may be courageous, but does not exemplify “moral fiber”. Infamy is relative.

  • Actually, Pence has already proven that he’s a true 100% Quality President. If Trump is too battered and beaten to run in 2020, Mike Pence is the automatic correct choice for President (if America wants to survive, that is!!).

  • Nonsense. In my generation, a dishonorable speaker got the “Klingon Discommendation” en masse:

    https://youtu.be/5c2etjMl3WM

    Walking out these days is much more civilized that we would have been back then. Mayor DeBlasio got the same treatment for using a slain police officer’s funeral to tout politics:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7km5xFy1_Qk

    And a few years back, now disgraced Bill O’Reilly politicized Christian kids walking out of a Dan Savage anti-bullying speech. Everyone on the right said, “right on” to that.

  • Ignoring that with which you disagree doesn’t seem principled or smart to me; it seems immature. Wouldn’t it be a better story some day to tell your kids or grandkids that you saw a vice president speak at your commencement (even if you totally disagreed with him) instead of, “I didn’t actually see him speak, I walked out.” Seems like that would be a disappointing message to teach: “Walk away when you disagree”.

  • Nobody hates former President Obama, no need to worry.

    Now Obama DOES have a longstanding appointment to go visit ADX Federal Supermax Prison (for 10 years on the rock pile with no parole). And I’m sure he’ll be a fashion star yet again, when he sports a new presidential suit and FBI handcuffs at the same time.

    But that doesn’t mean anybody hates Obama. Obama loves the media gigs anyway, so going to ADX will produce all the headlines he wants!!

  • That was both cute and sufficiently self-deprecating to make me smile. Thanks for sharing some humanity in your humor.

  • As a native Hoosier I would have walked out of a commencement address by Pence (or Trump or DeVos) if that had been my alma mater, Indiana U.

  • Pence was a terrible governor and would not have been reelected had he not chosen to run with the orange buffoon. Pence is a declared enemy of public education and of women’s rights of conscience and religious liberty. Pence might not be as nutty and childish as Trump, but he would still be a lousy president.

  • That’s fairly disgusting, even for you. Exactly what did Mr. Obama do that merits it? The crime, please, with details?

  • There is a difference between censorship — stopping someone from speaking — and free expression, in this case walking out. Pence had a chance to speak, there was no disruption, and people with different ideas had a chance to express their position. No harm, no foul. This is how the system should work.

  • Ah Doug… liberals…. democrats listen less and less and have no moral fiber!!

    And losing seats in the political arena..

  • Nice advice from a Trumpbot. Get back to me when they upgrade your programming to include a personality.

  • Notra Dame is a disgrace and mockery of the Catholic education. Why anyone would accept an invite to that renegade university is beyond me. Best let the administration to go hell on their own! Pray hard for the students. The administrators should know better.

  • That is because you obviously do not embrace of understand just what Cathoicism is all about.

  • He’d be worse than Trump. Trump is a human being; Pence is a fundamentalist creep who seeks to establish theocracy.

  • If this is what hate radio is putting out these days it’s apparent they’re just making this sort of thing up to fool the gullible.

  • That very diversity is the delusion of the new progressives who are attacking the core value of the Church, it’s s orthodoxy, it’s allegiance to the words of it’s progenitor, Jesus Christ.

  • So Byrnes thinks that all Catholic march in lockstep? What nonsense. Most Catholics disagree with official church policy on contraception, abortion, married clergy, ordaining women, need to send their kids to church schools, etc. — Edd Doerr

  • Catholics do not follow Church POLICY! Catholics follow Church TEACHING! That is its dogma, approved by it’s doctoral teachers, accepting the Ten Commandments of God and the decisions
    and findings of it’s Magistarium.

  • Most Catholics are not in sync with the church TEACHINGs that I referred to above. Mr Byrnes is being obtuse.

  • Disrespecting the Vice President only shows the lack of any semblance of moral fiber and character. Never in history has there been such large numbers of brainwashed youths that are so opinionated and disrespectful.

  • Nonsense. “Tricky Dick” was the politest nickname we had for Nixon when I was in high school. Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace a few months before Nixon got the boot. As usual holy hypocrites are poor students of even modern American history, making them the disrespectful, brainwashed crowd. If you are so incensed about such things, where is your respect for Obama or Biden? Only fools confuse partisanship for patriotism.

  • and what would his crimes be, floyd…real ones, not the imaginary ones that are floating in that pea sized noggin of yours.

  • “Bryan Ricketts, who served as Notre Dame’s student body president from 2015-16 and graduated Sunday with a dual degree in political science and chemical engineering, was one of the leaders. Ricketts told IndyStar that many of his peers were “upset and hurt” by the school’s decision to
    invite Pence because his “policies have impacted the humanity of certain graduates.”

    So Mr. Ricketts, their august student leader, led these precious snow-FLAKES, whose “humanity” had just suffered a serious blow by the very fact that Notre Dame chose Vice President Pence to present the 2017 graduation address?

    These students made for us a very effective demonstration of their deep sense of humanity they’ve gained in their 4 years of expensive education, by disrupting the ceremony for their fellow graduates! In my view, the amount of practical humanity they demonstrated at their graducation ceremony, seems rather anemic for the thousands of dollars (their parents) spent on their education!

  • That is precisely why you don’t deserve any for that statement. Nor does the Con-Artist-in-Chief.

  • A convert to Unitarianism (but a functional atheist), Edd Doerr has been denigrating Catholicism, its leaders, institutions, and teachings since the 1950s. Just read his old articles and letters to the editor.

    Yet last fall, Doerr suddenly expressed outrage over Donald Trump allegedly “insulting the pope” over climate change.

  • Define “most Catholics.” The ones who attend Mass and receive the sacraments? Or the ones who just retain the label “Catholic” who never attend Mass or receive the sacraments? Frances Kissling (also a long-time shill for the Fidel Castro regime and whose group was funded by pornographers–she draws the line, however, with Larry Flynt) admitted she never goes to Church.

    More precise polling shows that Catholics who attend Mass regularly, etc. are far more likely to accept Church teachings than the “lapsed” ones who just retain the Catholic label.

    If what Mister Edd says is true, then Catholics would not be a “swing vote” and have remained firmly in the Democratic Party despite its shift to the far left starting in the early 1970s.

    Again, Catholics for Choice predicted a landslide win for Hillary with Catholics. According to Pew, Trump won the Catholic vote by seven percentage points. So what happened in the last month of the campaign?

    Anyway, Doerr’s invocation of “democracy” (meaning “majority opinion”) is a little ridiculous. Gallup reported that up to 80 percent of Americans disapproved of the Supreme Court’s decision, “Engel v. Vitale,” which prayer in public schools. This, of course, meant nothing to Doerr and his ilk.

  • That would have been funny, seeing you starting up your mobile scooter with that little basket in the front filled your self-published books for sale, autographed copy of Corliss Lamont’s classic 1937 “An Open Letter to American Liberals,” unfinished draft of “Why Paul Blanshard Is Different Than Robert Spencer,” (a blank page actually), jars of organic wheat germ, copies of “Vivisection for Dummies” and “Eugenics for Enemies of the State,” and various medications that stabilize your mood and “regularity.” You’d keep your bent finger on the beeper button, screaming for people to get out of your way, bumping into plastic chairs, and then demanding help after your scooter gets stuck in the grass. The struggling and fidgeting would soon pop a hole in your air-filled donut cushion, thus aggravating your hemorrhoids. You’d blow that call whistle around your neck to summon your trained, transgender gorilla assistant, who’s on a banana break, but, in sign language, accuses you of exploiting him by not paying him anything, denying his freedom, and compares you (unfavorably) to another notorious Unitarian, John C. Calhoun.

    It would make a great YouTube skit.

  • Mr Cavalli forgets that Catholic President John Kennedy approved of the Engdel ruling, and Congress repeatedly failed to pass an amendment to reverse it. Also, that the lone Jesuit pries, Father Drinan, in the House led the Catholic vote to defeat such a measure. Cavalli also forgets that Kennedy was a strong supporter of church-state separation. — ED

  • Cavalli knows nothing about my religious convictions or that I have worked with Catholics for decades on many issues and have been published in Catholic magazines and newspapers. ED

  • Non-sequitr and dodging again. The issue is why you invoke majority opinion on some issues but choose to ignore it with others such as widespread public disapproval over the decision.

    In private, JFK complained that the Catholic bishops weren’t supporting him enough despite publicly saying they can’t tell their flock how to vote. (An endorsement is not quite the same as commanding people to vote.)

    Research by Victor Lasky and Thomas Reeves also shows JFK changed his views on establishing diplomatic relations with the Vatican and aid to Catholic schools.

  • What are your religious convictions if any? (If I still voted, I’d vote for a conservative, pro-life atheist–yes, they exist–over any liberal Catholic or liberal whatever anytime.) If adults can get into details about their sex lives, discuss politics, and if professors and teachers can harangue students into seeing if they have any internalized racism, then people discuss their religious views.

    You’re a member of church that doesn’t even require a belief in God. Apparently, the only things Unitarians are expected to believe in are its “seven pillars” and any and all liberal activism. Are political conservatives, pro-lifers, and pro-Israel people welcome in the Unitarian Church? (Regarding the last, I read that a Unitarian was suspended from Community Church in NYC because he was too pro-Israel.)

    To you, “separation of church and state” just means not opposing–or even questioning–liberal policies, candidates, and judicial rulings.

  • Despite being preoccupied with overpopulation, Mister Edd STILL supports artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood even though they produce more people that will impact climate change.

  • Kennedy expert and author Albert J. Menendez examined the work of Lasky and Reeves and concluded that they were wrong. Until the end of his life Kennedy was a strong supporter of the American constitutional principle of church-state separation, opposed the diversion of public funds to church schools (except for such small matters as school buses), and opposed diplomatic relations with the Holy See or any other religious body. — ED

  • Is the “expert” Albert Menendez related to your long-time co-worker of the same name?

    What a small world!

  • You mean obama a X-Con-Artist-in-Chief when the covered crosses at a supposed “Christian” University that offened him? BTW I don’t need or want your cheap respect.

  • Real respect is never expensive or cheap, it’s earned, making it priceless. So, why not earn some?

  • I already answered that question…… I don’t need or request your respect because either way it has no effect on me.

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