Dozens of students at the small Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, walked out of their commencement ceremony over the weekend as Vice President Mike Pence stood on the platform, preparing to address the graduating class.
In mid-April, students at the Christian college — one of the oldest in the country — protested the school for inviting the vice president by launching a petition to have him removed as the keynote speaker. One alumna even said she was “so physically ill” to learn her alma mater asked Pence to deliver the commencement address.
Pence spent a portion of his speech addressing the attacks and persecution Christians — and religious people as a whole — are facing around the globe, noting the mosque attacks in New Zealand and the church bombings in Sri Lanka.
“The truth is that we live in a time when religious belief is under assault,” Pence said. “We’ve seen unspeakable acts of violence against religious communities. Synagogues in Pennsylvania and California. Mosques in New Zealand. Churches in Sri Lanka. And three historically black churches burned to the ground in Louisiana.”
He continued, “Throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself a Christian — but things are different now. Lately, it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign traditional Christian beliefs.”
Moments before the vice president, who previously served as the governor of Indiana and was a longtime congressman from the Hoosier State, shared those words, dozens of students walked out. Others who remained for the duration of his speech wore stickers that read, “We are Taylor, too.”
One graduate, Laura Rathburn, said she was “disappointed” her college invited Pence, whom she described as an “inappropriate” choice for keynote speaker because “his presence makes it really difficult for everyone in the Taylor community to feel welcome and celebrated at our commencement.”
Anna Streed, who was also graduating over the weekend, said the “We are Taylor, too” stickers were designed by the school’s social work department and a handful of professors. The point of the stickers was to show some students “feel unsafe” in Pence’s presence, according to Streed.
“The purpose of this is just to recognize that we’re all part of Taylor, whether we’re Republican, Democrat, whatever,” said graduate Katie Tupper. “Like, everyone should be included.”
For what it’s worth, Taylor has stood by its decision to invite Pence. James Garringer, a spokesman for the university, said the school “is an intentional Christian community that strives to encourage positive, respectful and meaningful dialogue.”
“We look forward to hosting the vice president next month,” he said in April.