At the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony, graduates got up and walked out of Vice President Mike Pence’s speech as he began speaking. A Notre Dame faculty member had this to say about the students’ decision to leave:
From a Notre Dame faculty member re: the students who walked out during Mike Pence's commencement speech: pic.twitter.com/nF5zrxn35Z
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) May 21, 2017
As governor of Indiana, Mike Pence led a vicious crusade against LGBT rights, social welfare programs, Planned Parenthood, immigrants, and abortion access. In March 2015, Pence was catapulted into the national spotlight for signing a bill into law that allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT Americans under the guise of religious liberty. Indiana faced swift backlash as businesses and events, including the NCAA, pulled out of the state.
WATCH: Students walk out of Notre Dame's commencement ceremony during Vice President Mike Pence's address pic.twitter.com/yZ78eWLw7P
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 21, 2017
A student activist group, We StaND, had organized the walkout, and anticipated as many as 100 students leaving once Pence took to the podium. They released a statement explaining their rationale for the impending walkout, part of which read:
“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 [the] LGBT+ 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.”
The hashtag #WalkOutND was used to promote the protest on social media. This came on the heels of over 1,700 ND alumni signing a letter expressing their disappointment at Pence being selected as commencement speaker.
Bryan Ricketts, the organizer of the walkout, said that what Pence stands for is “a very legitimate thing for people to be scared.” He further explained how his appearance is a direct insult to some graduates.
“Some students are undocumented and some parents are driving to see their kid graduate because they can’t get on a plane.”
In the face of such blatant adversity – a man who has single-handedly promoted one of the most anti-LGBT agendas in modern history – it is encouraging to see so many young people stand up for what they “believe is right for them, for social justice and civil rights, and for Notre Dame.” It was right for the United States of America, as well.
Brian Tyler Cohen is a political writer, actor, and comedy sketch director. He graduated from Lehigh University with a dual degree in English and Business. He currently lives in Los Angeles.