The Notre Dame graduates who walked out of their May 21 commencement ceremony to protest the choice of Vice President Mike Pence as speaker missed the chance to learn one of the most valuable lessons of their academic careers.
That is, the ability to listen to those whose policies and views you oppose. It’s called tolerance, and it’s easy to preach but hard to practice.
Had the 100 or so students remained seated during Pence’s talk, they would not have heard a political speech or an ideological call to arms.
They would have heard a sitting vice president, who is a former governor of Notre Dame’s home state of Indiana, urge them to become leaders for “freedom of thought and expression.” They would have heard a call for them to use their education “for a life of service to your families, your communities, our country and the countries to which you will return.”
The dissenting students carried out their protest silently and with little disruption to the ceremony, at which 3,100 members of the class of 2017 went home with a diploma.
While the protesting students had every right to behave as they did, we know that when they take their place in the adult world they will come across many people with views they do not share. It might be a family member, a co-worker or supervisor, or their child’s teacher.
People, in other words, who cannot be dismissed from one’s life by simply turning your back and walking away.
Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, acknowledged the reality of “a fractured nation, with deep divisions and raw political feelings,” in his remarks introducing Pence.
“Because values some hold deeply are often pitted against those others hold just as deeply, and because the decisions before us are so consequential, our debates are passionate and political contests intense,” Father Jenkins said.
Encouraging the graduates to embrace ideas and listen to differing views, Father Jenkins urged them to listen to those who disagree, search for common bonds and find a way to “build a society where all can flourish.”
It’s worth bearing that in mind during this commencement season, or any other season. A college graduation is a time of hope, promise and release for those who have earned a diploma.
Many who read this page will undoubtedly be attending a commencement this year, for a child, a grandchild, or a brother or sister. They’ll hear commencement speeches by the famous, like Vice President Pence, and those who are little known outside of their specialized field.
We do hope, though, that the speeches, no matter who delivers them, will inspire all who listen, and most especially those graduates about to make their way in the world.
We wish them all the best, and hope they’ll find satisfaction, and even happiness, on their journey.