Dozens of students at the University of Notre Dame walked out of their commencement ceremony Sunday when Vice President Mike Pence took the stage — in protest of the administration and policies he represents.
Some members of the larger crowd cheered the walk-outs on, while others booed the students who marched out of gates 27 and 28 of Notre Dame Stadium during the school's 172nd commencement. The walk-out came before the students received their degrees, and they were not allowed back in, officials said.
The move was not totally unexpected, since the student organization WeStaNDFor had shared their plans ahead of time. They believe that the politics Pence, the former Indiana governor who was raised Catholic, represented contradicted the Catholic social virtues Notre Dame extols.
"He has supported policies that have targeted the weakest and most vulnerable among us," said graduate student Luis Miranda, a member of the group, told NBC affiliate WNDU before the protest. "These are my classmates; these are my friends; these are our family members as well. We’re standing up for them. We’re standing up for their dignity."
South Bend Equality, a group participating in the event, expanded further on the specific issues that they were protesting.
"Our members lived in South Bend when Mike Pence was governor,” the group said in a statement. “We know all too well how his policies endangered or caused direct harm to public education, health care, women’s rights, the environment, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and refugees, reproductive rights, local infrastructure, the economy of our state, and more.”
Instructions were quite simple: "Sit with a friend in your college," read an invitation titled "Taking Back Our Commencement."
"Stand up and walk out once Mike Pence starts to speak," it directed. "Respectfully and quietly exit the stadium."
Only 50 were expected to take part in the silent gesture, but reports estimated that more than 100 students headed for the exit when Pence, who earned an honorary degree from Notre Dame, walked toward the podium.
There were also demonstrators unaffiliated with the graduation ceremony who gathered near the Notre Dame campus to protest the vice president's presence.
Participants deemed it a successful demonstration.
Pence's remarks began as students walked out, but he did not address the elephant leaving the room — instead addressing religious liberty, President Donald Trump’s Sunday morning speech in Saudi Arabia and encouraging leadership in broad strokes terms.
"University of Notre Dame Class of 2017, this is your day," Pence said in closing. "So go, Irish — the future is yours."