A (Mostly) Fine Commencement

Some 100-150 members of the class of 2017 “respectfully” walk out on Vice President Pence’s commencement address in an officially sanctioned demonstration.

NOTRE DAME, IN — Except for a few minutes of university-sanctioned agitation by a handful of discomposed students, the 2017 Notre Dame commencement was a fine affair.

As the sun broke through the threatening clouds, some 24,000 family and friends joined the 2031 graduates in the stadium to witness a moving and impressive ceremony. Father John Jenkins’s introduction of Vice President Mike Pence was pacific and graceful, and the Vice President in turn praised Notre Dame fulsomely while commending the graduating seniors and their families and urging the graduates to a life of service worthy of their university.  And in his praise of Notre Dame for being open to controversial speakers, Pence charitably overlooked the fact that he was speaking rather than President Trump in the wake of anti-Trump protests by thousands of Notre Dame students and faculty.

The Vice President was warm and generous and radiated good will.  The audience – well, nearly all the audience — in turn welcomed him with enthusiastic applause both at the outset and often along the way. Including, it may be well to note, when Pence declared his pride at serving with President Trump.

And while, as we have reported, the university debased the Laetare Medal by awarding it to a priest who disdains the Church’s teaching on same-sex marriage, doubtless few in the audience realized it.

You can watch Father Jenkins’s introduction here and Vice President Pence’s address here.

But you would almost surely know none of this if you read or heard about this event in newspapers or online or on the radio or by a television report. There was a tsunami of reports for one reason only – the walkout by some 100 to 150 students when Pence was introduced. And if there was a headline or a video clip – and there were lots of those – that didn’t feature the walkout, we haven’t seen it.  Go here for 18 pages of Google citations of articles and videos about Pence and the Notre Dame commencement. Here’s a video on which you can hear the boos directed at the students though only part of the walkout, and here’s a better one of the walkout.

And so, after one wave of publicity for having Pence instead of Trump as commencement speaker, Notre Dame gets another — for having Pence. The walkout may not have deserved the national attention it received, but it was entirely predictable that it would get it. The students had announced it well in advance so that everyone would be ready with camera and notebook.  And the run-up to the event had been widely publicized: the revulsion of Trump on campus; Notre Dame’s apparently bypassing him as commencement speaker; and then the extravagant denunciations of Pence by protesting students. (To wit, he is “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, offensive, or ostracizing to members of our community,” and his presence makes students “feel unsafe.”)

If the university, knowing all this, had a good reason for giving the students the green light, it did not disclose it. The Notre Dame spokesperson said the university was concerned about the weather but not about the walkout, which he said would be “respectful.”

He must have meant they would not curse or throw tomatoes or make faces, for “respectful” is a word that does not come readily to mind about students who turn their backs and walk out on the Vice President of the United States when he begins to speak.

Nor did the supposed precedents cited by the spokesman explain the university’s unconcern. None of them – and in particular the student protests of the honoring of President Obama and Vice President Biden at prior commencements – took place inside the stadium during the commencement ceremony. In Obama’s case the seniors held their own graduation ceremony at the Grotto after a Mass and a rally on the quad attended by several thousand including Bishop John D’Arcy.

Since the anti-Pence students did not show the same consideration for their fellow graduates and their families and as did the students opposing the honoring of Obama and Biden, the Church’s formidable adversaries on abortion, same sex marriage, and religious liberty, it seems a fair question why the university did not oblige them to do so.

Why, that is, did it not tell the students that it expected students to be courteous to the university’s guests, not least to the Vice President of the United States; that the other 1,931 graduates and their families deserved a joyful ceremony unmarked by any gratuitous dose of hostility; and that if the students wished to protest, they were free to do so elsewhere on the campus and receive their diplomas via the United States Postal Service?

As for the protesting students, one said she was afraid that “a lot of people will think that this was just a bunch of liberal snowflakes trying to make themselves feel good about themselves at graduation.” She was perhaps correct. She also called those who booed the students hypocrites for objecting to the students’ exercise of free speech, evidently forgetting for the moment that the students had wanted to keep Pence from speaking.

Still, it was a sunny and happy day for almost everyone on the South Bend campus.

May God bless and keep the graduates of the Class of 2017!

Annual Breakfast Reminder

If you’ll be at Notre Dame for Reunion Weekend (or you’re in the vicinity) plan to attend Sycamore Trust’s annual breakfast meeting on Saturday morning June 3. Our principal speaker will be Professor Gerard Bradley of the Law School, who will discuss the presidential election as it may affect the interests of the Church and Notre Dame. Click on the link below for tickets or to register for a live broadcast of the event.

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