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To the Pence protestors

| Tuesday, March 7, 2017

In the days since Mike Pence was announced as an honorary degree recipient and the principal speaker at Notre Dame’s Commencement this May, I have both overheard and been a part of many conversations debating the University’s decision to invite Vice President Pence to campus for such a significant event.

I heavily considered writing a Viewpoint piece in defense of the University’s decision to invite Pence, but what good would come of this? Realistically, both those in favor of the decision to invite Pence and those opposed are not going to have their opinion easily swayed. The tension and degree to which people feel polarized by this decision became evident to me via posts and comments in the Class of 2017 Facebook group. I’ll leave the debating of whether or not Pence should have been invited as our Commencement speaker to writers from the College Republicans and College Democrats, as well as the plethora of other related Viewpoint articles on this issue that The Observer is likely receiving.

In this article I want to discuss what will actually happen when Pence arrives on campus. Undoubtedly, there will be protestors with plenty of signs outside the football stadium when Pence’s motorcade arrives. This, in my mind, is a given; and there’s nothing wrong with Americans exercising their constitutional rights in this way. Listening to fellow graduating seniors who are upset about the University’s decision to invite Pence, it seems that many are discussing whether or not to attend graduation at all, or how they will protest as Pence speaks. That is what I want to discuss.

First, there is the option to not attend Commencement at all, and either stay home, go enjoy the morning with your family elsewhere or take part in protests outside the stadium. If you choose to do this, that’s perfectly fine, but why let one person ruin your Notre Dame graduation? In recent months I have thought a lot about what I would do if the University invited a politician I staunchly disagreed with to speak at Commencement. What would I do if I felt that the person speaking discriminated against me as a Catholic, white, male, Second-Amendment-loving American? I arrived at the conclusion that I would still attend Commencement. Don’t let one person alter your decision to attend Commencement. Doing so lets the other person (or group) win. Show Pence and your classmates who support him that you won’t allow yourself to be weak and alienated from such a significant event in your life.

Second, there is the option to attend Commencement, but get up and excuse yourself as soon as Pence is ready to speak. This, in my mind, is the worst option, because it is incredibly disrespectful not only to Vice President Pence, but also to your fellow classmates as you cause a disruption leaving the crowded seating area. The obvious counterargument here is, “As a x,y,z student, Pence doesn’t respect me!” Even if you feel this is true, have respect for your fellow classmates who support him. And above all, if you are a person of faith or feel shaped by Christian morals at all, have respect for Pence even if you don’t think he respects you. Countless times in Scripture we are taught to love and respect each other, and even if you feel that Pence doesn’t love you (although I would argue that as a Christian, he does), follow Paul’s teaching to the Romans to “love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

Third, there is the option to attend Commencement and listen to Pence address our class. This is the most ideal option. Listening to others is one of the most sincere forms of respect. You don’t have to agree with Pence or anything he says to listen. (It is unlikely he will say anything controversial in a commencement address anyway). Again, if you are a person of faith, think about what Jesus would do. Your immediate answer might be, “He wouldn’t have invited Mike Pence to Notre Dame!” But what if he did? Would Jesus want you to be respectful of Pence and your classmates? Yes. Does this mean you have to miss perhaps the most momentous event of your time at Notre Dame? No. Attending and listening to Pence does not imply approval of him or the policies he supports. Rather, attending Commencement affirms you are a part of the Notre Dame family.

Mike Pohl


March 4

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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