SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Dozens of graduates and family members silently stood and walked out Sunday as Vice President Mike Pence began his address at Notre Dame's commencement ceremony.
It’s a long-standing tradition for Notre Dame to invite a new president to speak at commencement, but this year thousands signed a petition asking the university not to invite Donald Trump. The university instead welcomed the vice president to the nation’s most prominent catholic school.
President Barack Obama spoke at Notre Dame’s 2009 graduation ceremony, and Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the 2016 commencement. Both were also met with protests at Notre Dame.
Pence spoke briefly of Trump, praising his speech to the leaders of 50 Arab and Muslim nations earlier in the day in Saudi Arabia. Pence said the president "spoke out against religious persecution of all people of all faiths and on the world stage he condemned, in his words, the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians."
Trump has faced harsh criticism for his anti-Islamic rhetoric during the campaign, as well as his administration's legal battle to impose a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.
Earlier in the ceremony, valedictorian Caleb Joshua Pine urged a "stand against the scapegoating of Muslims" and criticized Trump's push to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Notre Dame graduate Griffin Hilly is from Chicago’s diverse Albany Park neighborhood. He walked out in protest of the Trump administration's immigration polices.
"I think it is a time for standing up for the rights of others,” Hilly said.
“We did it because we don’t think he represents this university’s values and this country’s values,” said graduate Patricia Fernandez.
Peter Henegan from Hinsdale stayed for the speech, and says he thinks the protesters should have too.
“I think that respecting the office is important," Henegan said.
Ken Munro, the parent of a graduate, disagreed with the display.
“It’s kind of embarrassing to see them doing that. I don’t think this was the appropriate place for that," he said.
Pence didn't comment on the walkout, which was expected, but he did allude to clashes at campuses elsewhere that have derailed appearances by controversial speakers, such as conservative firebrand Ann Coulter at the University of California at Berkeley.
In the end, it was the speaker who also offered a solution: dialogue can bridge the division.
“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,” Pence said.