Last weekend, one of the most respected universities in the country had their annual commencement ceremony. The University of Notre Dame has a long and illustrious history, and has always been one of the most revered institutions of higher learning in the nation. Because of its high-profile status, Notre Dame always snags big-ticket speakers for their commencement events. Some of these speakers include President George W. Bush, Kofi Annan, and President Barack Obama, to name a few.
On Sunday, May 21, Vice President Mike Pence stepped onto that storied stage to give his own commencement speech, seeing as how his boss was overseas. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year+, you may have heard some things about Pence’s severely conservative politics, maybe you’ve even heard about some of the things he did using those politics when he was the Governor of Indiana, which just so happens to be where Notre Dame is located.
I’ve seen many arguments pertaining to these students and why their walking out on him was nothing more than the tantrums of petulant millennials who have no idea how the real world or workforce operate, and who should have sat down, shut up, and listened to whatever Pence had to say. I’ve also seen some argue that, since they knew Pence was the speaker, if they absolutely HAD to make a statement, they should have just not attended their commencement ceremony at all!
Oy vey. Let’s break this down.
1. Pence is a notorious homophobe, transphobe, misogynist, and coward. Despite all of these things, Notre Dame still invited him to speak at these kids’ graduation. Some of them took issue with the damage this man’s politics have done to, not only their state, but their country as a whole. Them choosing to walk out was not the tantrums of petulant children, but their patriotism on full display. Oh yeah, you read that right– I said P.A.T.R.I.O.T.I.SM. Patriotism means standing up to tyrants, and those who aid and abed tyrants. Patriotism means standing up for the rights of others, not because it necessarily affects you, but because they are your friends, your neighbors, your fellow AMERICANS.
2. Freedom belongs to every American, not just the conservatives who have bastardized freedom and patriotism to fit their own theocratic and oppressive narrative. These graduates were completely within their rights to stand up and walk out on Mike Pence. Peaceful protests are as much a part of America’s history as freedom is. I wonder if those who take issue with the Notre Dame grads’ protests consider the Founding Fathers to be patriotic. If so, I wonder if they have truly considered how those men even became the Founding Fathers. I don’t want to go all historian all you so I’ll summarize: men and women that had immigrated to “The Colonies” decided they were pretty damn sick of taking orders from a king 4,400 miles away and made a choice to do something about it. Several massacres and one incredibly bloody war later, those people declared their independence from England and America was born.
Do you see the irony there? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton: America’s Founding Fathers. Men who shed their English pasts and murdered their former countrymen in the hopes of a better life– a FREE life! Their actions paved the way for America to eventually become one of the most prosperous countries in the world. And yet, a handful of graduates walking out on a speech at THEIR commencement means they’re disrespectful? Give. Me. A. Break.
3. Which brings me to my next point: their utter ignorance at how holding a job and the workforce operates. This is entirely irrelevant to this argument. Know why? College students are not employees. In fact, at the time of their graduation, these kids and their parents will have paid or financed for $260,000 worth of higher education. Annual tuition to attend the University of Notre Dame is a staggering $64,775 a year. They are paying for a service, for a chance at solid employment and opportunities. This amount is especially shocking when you consider how little weight a four-year Bachelor’s degree even holds these days; it’s truly a terrible return on one’s investment. These students paid Notre Dame, and when their employee decided to invite Mike Pence, they showed their displeasure by silently exiting the building.
4. I find every single thing about Mike Pence disrespectful. As this Rolling Stone article brilliantly explains, Pence’s time as Governor of Indiana left the state battered and bruised. He paid his mortgage with campaign funds, diverted money that was helping to support the AIDS epidemic (brought on by the opioid epidemic) and funneled it into gay conversion therapy research, did nothing for weeks during a lead poisoning outbreak, signed one of the most discriminatory anti-gay bills ever seen in the country, and turned away Syrian refugees in direct conflict with the orders of the Federal Government. He has repeatedly stated that he is a Christian before anything else; even before politics and, ultimately, the welfare of others. Because apparently, modern day Christians think every day is opposite day. He refuses to dine with another woman unless his wife is with him, despite being the Vice President of the United States, who will frequently have to attend meetings, events, and summits without his wife by his side. Unlike America, many countries throughout the world have women leaders, so I’m curious to see how that will work out for him. `
Do not tell me that these students turning their backs on Mike Pence is in any way more offensive than the crimes and sins Pence has himself committed. If you ask me, he got of easy.
5. ‘They should have just not attended rather than turning their backs and walking out on him (with PRIDE flags on their caps, no less!)’. Really? Should they have? I wholeheartedly disagree. As mentioned above, these Notre Dame grads paid $260,000 to complete their four-year degree at Notre Dame. You truly believe that they should have just skipped the opportunity to celebrate that exorbitantly expensive piece of paper!? Please take several seats.
They earned that ceremony, many times over. They worked their asses off and got a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the country and their graduation should have been an experience that every student could have enjoyed, not just conservative ones. Furthermore, they WANTED to make a statement! They intended for Mike Pence to feel every bit of discomfort and awkwardness so that he knew that they reject everything he stands for, and were within their right to do so. Free speech goes both ways.
There is no mold for patriotism. Loving one’s country can mean something different for everyone. But those people who have an issue with what the Notre Dame grads did are no patriots. They are the farces, the cowards. The ones who want us to trust in the status quo, as long as they are in charge of it. The ones with very short memories, who forget the true disrespect they have delivered in the past. They gloss over all of the truly abhorrent things Mike Pence has done and call it patriotism, but they are wrong.
If they want to see true patriotism, I’d recommend watching a bunch of inspirational and brave college grads turn their backs on and walk out on the Vice President of the United States of America during their commencement ceremony. Who knows? Maybe those posers will learn a thing or two.
Dani Strehle, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder, is hoping to reshape the narrative to leave behind a better world for her daughters, so that they may sustain, rather than battle and rebuild.