Over 100 graduates of the University of Notre Dame carried out an organized walkout Sunday during a commencement speech delivered by Vice President Mike Pence.
According to a statement by organizers, the “WalkoutND Commencement Action” invited “students, faculty, and families” to walk out of the ceremony to “show our dissatisfaction with the University’s selection of Mike Pence as honored speaker.”
Notre Dame, whose students and faculty are about 85% Catholic, has a tradition of inviting newly inaugurated U.S. presidents to deliver the commencement, The Washington Post reported. But thousands of students and faculty successfully petitioned the university’s president to break with that tradition and skip President Donald Trump.
But Pence, an unpopular former Indiana governor, was an equally controversial choice, especially for students of color, children of immigrants, and the LGBTQ community on campus.
As Pence began his speech, dozens of students stood up, turned, and walked toward the back of the stadium, climbed a set of stairs, and exited the ceremony to a brief round of both boos and applause.
Throughout the month of May, students, faculty, and alumni had scheduled protest activities including a “Flag Drop,” in which 500 rainbow flags were purchased and displayed across campus.
“Pence has supported funding for conversion therapy. He also passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which initially contained no civil rights protections for LGBTQ people,” organizers said in a statement about the Flag Drop.
They also produced a compelling video narrated by several students describing their reasons for protesting Pence’s speech.
“As the son of two undocumented immigrants, Pence has made it very clear that my family and I are not welcome in this country,” one student said.
“Coming out is the hardest thing I have ever done, especially because I was on campus when I did so,” said another. “Against all odds, I have found my place here. When Pence was announced as the commencement speaker, I cried because I no longer felt safe or loved or wanted at Notre Dame.”