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Taylor University Students Walk Out Before Mike Pence Commencement Address

by Sam Cronin
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday May 22, 2019

Dozens of students walked out ahead of Vice President Mike Pence's commencement speech at Taylor University Saturday. The act of protest was preceded by weeks of disagreement among the student body on whether Pence was an appropriate speaker for the school's ceremony.

Taylor U. is a nondenominational Christian liberal arts school in Indiana, and many students expressed concern about the impact of his appearance through various petitions. This protest echoes the controversy surrounding Pence's 2017 commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame. In that case, several dozen students walked out on the Vice President as he praised the Catholic university for being a "vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas," The New York Times reported.

Video showing the group of 20-30 students and faculty walking out Saturday during the hymn sung before Pence began speaking was posted to YouTube by WANE 15 News on May 18. According to WANE, Taylor University had coordinated with the students to allow them to walk out ahead of Pence's speech. They returned to the auditorium following the address.

One of the students who walked out, Laura Rathburn, was upset at the school having chosen Pence as the commencement speaker, saying:

"I think his presence makes it difficult for everyone at Taylor to feel welcomed."

Critics told journalism outlet IndyStar that their objections to Pence speaking were not on the basis of his faith, but rather on the lack of conversation between the university and the faculty and student body on making the decision. Additionally, some feared that Pence's presence would represent an endorsement of Pence's political views and connection to President Trump.

Several students, including Rathburn, decorated their mortarboards with messages meant to represent support for marginalized people. Stickers reading "We are Taylor too" adorned the hats of graduates Katie Tupper and Anna Streed, while Rathburn's mortarboard was decorated with rainbow colors and read "Ally Visible For Those Who Can't Be."

Regardless of the protesting students, Pence received a standing ovation from the majority of the graduating which remained for his speech. His message called for religious pride and for Christians to show resolve in their beliefs.

"Throughout most of our American history it's been pretty easy to call yourself a Christian, but things are different now," Pence said. "Lately, it's become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign traditional Christian beliefs. So as you prepare to leave this place and build your life on a Christ-centered, world-engaging foundation poured here at Taylor University, be prepared to stand up."

For other students such as Emmanuel Boateng, having a Vice President speak at their school was seen as an honor.

"Because of his position it's a privilege to have him speak here," Boateng said. "I know that on campus the emotions range from very positive to not very positive. No one dreams that way. But despite our differences, the whole entire campus has come to celebrate together."

In the weeks leading up to the Vice President's appearance, competing petitions circulated the campus. One called for the university to dump Pence as speaker, and another voiced support for the university's choice of Pence.

Vice President Pence will give his next address to the US Army graduates at West Point in New York on Saturday.


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