Notre Dame graduates walk out of Notre Dame Stadium in protest as Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the 2017 commencement ceremony Sunday, May 21, 2017, in South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame graduates walk out of Notre Dame Stadium in protest as Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the 2017 commencement ceremony Sunday, May 21, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. (Robert Franklin/AP)

Did you commend or condemn those University of Notre Dame graduates who walked out on Vice President Mike Pence during their own commencement ceremony Sunday?

Did they properly exercise their right to free speech and public protest? Or did they brazenly, wrongly, even immaturely behave disrespectfully to our country's second in command and, in a sense, our very nation?


I just happened to be in the South Bend area on Saturday night for a family gathering. That campus and the surrounding region were abuzz with contentious chatter about what those grads were preparing, and promising, to do.

How many would take part? Would they actually go through with their highly publicized threat? How would Pence respond publicly? How would university officials respond?

Since Sunday, several readers have contacted me, reflecting passionate feelings from both points of view on the walkout. Plus, my social media sites have exploded with differing opinions on this high-profile situation.

"Couldn't we put on our good manners for just one day?" asked one reader. "When you are old and remembering this special day, you have to remember you walked out on the VP of the United States. Something to be proud of?"

"Last I knew, students at Notre Dame pay a tuition… a very high tuition," countered another reader. "I think they have every right to walk out of an elective speech. Civics 101."

There seems to be no middle ground or gray area with this issue. You either support the grads' decision and their symbolic action or you don't. Period. Similar protests — silent or screaming — will surely play out in coming months and years in defiance of the Trump administration's policies and executive orders.

Regardless of their walkout on Pence's speech, those grads received their diploma and were allowed to graduate from the university. The rest of us are not so fortunate. We remain left behind in two schools of thought regarding Pence and his political views.

Organized by a student activist group at Notre Dame called "We Stand For," the protest was in defense of "the marginalized people affected by Pence's politics, both on this campus and throughout our nation," according to the Facebook post published by the group before the ceremony.

"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," the group wrote on social media.

Pence's predictably vanilla-flavored commencement speech was quickly melted by the graduates' quiet defiance when he took the podium. I do, however, give him credit for once again showing tact in yet another contentious atmosphere. Our former governor obviously understands that he may be the next president of our country, one way or another, and he's doing everything he can to ensure his chances.

Kudos to Pence (whom I have never voted for or supported) for using his commencement speech to advocate for free speech on college campuses across America. In his address, Pence called the country's current atmosphere of policing free speech "destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge."

Some of the students who didn't walk out on Pence didn't hesitate to openly boo those grads who did walk out, which I also quietly applauded. I believe the entire exchange served as an apt microcosm of our country's ongoing turmoil.

In fact, I thought that day played out perfectly, as if scripted in a patriotic play.

Think about it: our nation's vice president, who happens to be our state's former governor, returned home to speak about free speech at such a fabled university. His mere presence there (regardless of his speech's content) prompted a peaceful protest illustrating our country's deeply-felt discord and, in a way, what our country stands for.


There was no violence. No rioting. No injuries. No deaths.

With so much bloodshed taking place at universities across the country, this protest was a thing of beauty in America the Beautiful.

Without paying a dime in tuition, all of us were taught a valuable (and hopefully memorable) lesson by that revered university, located just an hour away from most of us. It doesn't matter whether or not we're highly educated. Or Catholic. Or Christian. Or even fans of Notre Dame (which I'm not).

All that matters is that we're all Americans, and that we're all attentive students to this notion of a nation. We're not supposed to agree on everything, yet we can still come to class every day and discuss, debate or yell at each other about our disagreements. And then return to our homes without getting detention, suspension or expulsion.

Isn't that, in part, what our founding fathers had in mind when crafting the tenets of our fledgling country?

Critics of those protesting Notre Dame graduates claim they turned their back on their country, serving as an indictment on today's educational system. Critics claim instead of confronting an issue, too many students these days are running away from it, or in this case, walking away from it.

I disagree.

Those grads chose to walk out on their own commencement, something they've surely looked forward to for many years. Something they worked hard for the privilege of attending, and exiting early on principle.

That day may likely be the pinnacle of their life. Or their defining moment, so far anyway. They believe they stood up for what they felt was the right cause. They want to be on the right side of history when looking back on it someday.

Regardless how you feel about those graduates or Pence's politics, we shouldn't walk out on the lesson they taught us that day.