Pence’s comments, though, were not heard by about 100 of the 3,171 graduates. As soon as the vice president and former Indiana governor stepped up to the podium — where he spent a chunk of his 15-minute address discussing his support for freedom of speech at universities — students quietly got up from their seats and left Notre Dame Stadium in protest of some of Pence's policy positions.
Pence bestowed his compliment upon the university “sadly, when free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America,” he said. “Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed, where opposing views are debated, and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear.”
He commended Notre Dame for maintaining an “atmosphere of civility and open debate,” while condemning other campuses where there are “safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness, all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech.”
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The walkout by some graduates was not a surprise but rather a staged protest that had been planned for weeks. The university and campus police department had been made aware of it as well. When Notre Dame announced that Pence would be the 2017 graduation speaker in March, the student organization WeStaNDFor began brainstorming ways to take a stand.
“It was a wonderful show of solidarity,” former student body president Bryan Ricketts told The Indianapolis Star after the protest.
WeStaNDFor put out a release last week explaining that they 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 Donald Trump’s immigration travel ban, and his opposition to sanctuary cities that do not enforce federal immigration laws.
Nataline Duffy said the walkout was disgraceful. She was in attendance with her husband Thomas from New Jersey to watch their son graduate.