NOTRE DAME, Ind. (WNDU) The vice president called on the University of Notre Dame’s Class of 2017 to “lead for good” and concluded his 17 minute speech by saying, “Go Irish! The future is yours!”
The crowd gathered at Notre Dame Stadium applauded as Vice President Mike Pence left the stage. He told graduates if they held fast to God, they would reach unimaginable heights. “My charge to all of you is this: be exceptional from this day forth.”
Watch Pence's full speech in the attached video player
It was the vice president and former Indiana governor’s first return trip to Michiana since taking office in January. He was introduced by Father John Jenkins who highlighted Pence’s commitment to public service. “I am proud to call him a friend,” Jenkins told the crowd.
As Pence walked to the podium, a group of approximately 100 students walked out of commencement, according to a university estimate. The audience loudly booed those who walked out.
"Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed," Pence said. "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."
Notre Dame alum Kevin Munro was in the crowd, watching his daughter graduate. He called the walkout "embarrassing."
"I think it's kind of an indictment of the way that our education system has turned from a place where you have a free discourse of ideas to a place if you hear something you don't agree with, you run away," said Munro.
Graduate Jessica Pedroza said walking out was important to her since her parents are Mexican immigrants. She feels missing the traditional commencement was worth it, arguing the Trump-Pence administration targets certain groups of people, such as immigrants.
"Sometimes, you have to make some sacrifices because you have to keep standing up for what's right, for justice, and for the marginalized," explained Pedroza.
Watch a clip from the walkout in the attached video player
"Congratulations to a generation of promise. We are proud of you all,” Pence said. “For this son of Indiana, it is great to be back home again." The vice president shared that he was humbled to give the commencement address, especially with his mom and wife in attendance, both of whom he acknowledged.
Pence also said that graduation day is one marked by celebration and appreciation for those who believed in and supported students.
"This university is a vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas in a time," Pence said. "Sadly, when free speech and civility are waning."
At one point, the vice president invited the 3,171 students in the Class of 2017 to stand and offer a wave of support and appreciation to their families. Many students did stand and wave to loved ones in the audience.
The vice president also praised the University of Notre Dame for creating a culture that embraced freedom of speech and for being a place where speakers-- no matter how unpopular-- may air their views openly. Pence told the graduating class to “carry the ideas and values that you’ve learned at Notre Dame” into their personal and professional lives—by working with purpose and serving their communities.
Pence also told the crowd of about 24,000 that it was his “greatest honor” to serve President Trump, and he referred to right to life and assistance for refugees. The vice president also referenced the speech President Donald Trump gave Sunday morning in Saudi Arabia, where he addressed Muslim leaders and tolerance.