A large group of Notre Dame students walked out of their own graduation ceremony on Sunday afternoon, in protest of Vice President Mike Pence giving a commencement speech at the university.
The student group known as We StaND For garnered attention over the last few days for a walkout they planned to stage during graduation. Several students spoke up on the specifics of their outrage, which stems from Pence's treatment and views on marginalized people, such as immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community.
"There's something really odd," said graduate student Luis Miranda, "about going to the most important moment of your life—the culmination of your education—with friends, family, and someone who persecutes you for who you are."
On the event page for the protest, the students emphasized their desire to be strong, yet peaceful during Pence's speech:
We invite all students, faculty, and families who will be attending the Commencement ceremony to walk out with us as we take back our graduation and show our dissatisfaction with the University's selection of Mike Pence as honored speaker. We also will walk out in dignity and solidarity with all marginalized people affected by Pence's politics, both on this campus and throughout our nation.
A subsequent press release from the group further highlighted Pence's stances on refugees and LGBT rights, claiming his beliefs clash with the Catholic teachings of a school like Notre Dame:
According to reporters who attended the ceremony, there was a mixed reaction to the walkout from the crowd. Some audience members chose to boo the students who participated in the protest:
Yes. A lot in the crowd and students boo'ed those leaving. https://t.co/VPsqJ8uSDl— Summer Ratcliff (@SummerRatcliff) May 21, 2017
In one video captured by a reporter, you can also hear a member of the audience yelling, "Losers!" as the students file out of the stadium:
As promised, dozens of new Notre Dame grads leave stadium when VP Pence begins his commencement address. Some in the audience boo. pic.twitter.com/M6LWQVynRT— Jim Williams (@JimWilliamsCBS2) May 21, 2017
Some students took an alternative approach to mocking Pence in the days leading up to his controversial appearance. A sign welcoming "election conspirators" in both Russian and English popped up near the school, a clear reference to the ongoing investigation of Russia's alleged influence of the Trump campaign:
This sign has appeared south of Notre Dame's campus, where Mike Pence will give commencement speech Sunday. "Welcome election conspirators." pic.twitter.com/uwQ17pztiV— Laken Litman (@LakenLitman) May 20, 2017
Pence appeared to reference the unrest during his speech, when he praised Notre Dame for allowing people of all popularity levels to share their views on campus:
Pence praises Notre Dame for being a place where speakers, no matter how unpopular, may air their views openly.— Travis Robinson (@TRobinsonWNDU) May 21, 2017
The university's president, Rev. John Jenkins, said prior to the event that he respected the students' right to peaceful protest.
"Our goal has never been to avoid controversy," he said. "This group has said publicly that their intention is not to disrupt the commencement for others, but certainly to make their position heard. I commend them for that."