When Vice President Mike Pence delivers the commencement speech at Notre Dame on Sunday, he’ll likely speak to fewer people than he expected.
Some students at the Catholic university plan to walk out of the speech as part of a protest against Pence and his policies, which they say target marginalized people on the basis of their religion, skin color or sexual orientation, according to the student activist group We Stand For.
Luis Miranda, a co-organizer of the walkout, said Pence, as Indiana governor and as vice president, targeted vulnerable people with his policies. Catholic values promote standing up for the poor and marginalized, so he plans to stand up on Sunday, literally.
Miranda said some of his family members are undocumented immigrants and have felt under siege by the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration.
“They are going to be in the audience in one of the most important moments of my life with someone targeting them for who they are,” he said.
The plan, according to a Facebook event, is to stand up when Pence begins speaking, walk toward the exit quietly, and, of course, live tweet the protest under the #WalkoutND hashtag.
As of Thursday afternoon, about 75 people had signed up to participate in the walkout.
“This is not just about the numbers, but about standing up for truth,” Miranda said. “We feel that there is power in truth and hopefully there will be power in numbers that come stand up with us.”
The university is not particularly worried about the protest.
Paul Browne, a spokesperson for Notre Dame, said walkout organizers reached out to police and administrators ahead of time to plan the quiet proceedings.
“We’re not concerned,” Browne said. “We think they will be respectful in the way they express their differences with the administration.”
Browne said officials were more concerned with the potential for thunderstorms on Sunday, which could force them to move the commencement from the spacious outdoor football stadium to a smaller arena.
A number of prominent Republicans have faced student opposition at commencement speeches this graduation season. Last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced raucous booing at a speech at historically black Bethune-Cookman University.
Pence will become the first vice president to deliver a commencement speech at Notre Dame when he receives an honorary degree on Sunday, according to the university.
Six presidents from both sides of the aisle have given commencement speeches at Notre Dame, including Barack Obama in 2009 and George W. Bush in 2001.
“It is fitting that in the 175th year of our founding on Indiana soil that Notre Dame recognize a native son who served our state and now the nation with quiet earnestness, moral conviction and a dedication to the common good characteristic of true statesmen,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins said in a statement.
Pence received his bachelor’s degree from Indiana’s Hanover College and attended Indiana University School of Law.