The selection of Pence as commencement speaker
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, April 25, 2017
To all my fellow peers upset over the selection of Mike Pence as commencement speaker,
The great university of which we are a part provides each and every student with the chance to make the biggest leap in our lives whilst preparing us for our desired career path. This leap is simple: maturity. The University of Notre Dame provides us with the opportunity to study ourselves and critique the person we have become. None of us should be happy with who we are, especially with who we were just a few years ago in high school. At Notre Dame, we have the opportunity to meet and live with people from various backgrounds, and the diverse nature of these backgrounds makes them invaluable. There are students who come from all corners of the United States, bringing geographical diversity and a wide array of local cultures within the larger American culture. There are students from different nations, bringing with them not only geographical and cultural diversity, but also experience from societies different than our own. Then, there is the diversity each and every single student brings: our own experiences and opinions. Notre Dame allows each and every single student to interact with people with highly varied backgrounds, experiences and ideas while bettering our skills for our careers. We get the opportunity to put aside conflicting viewpoints and try to understand each other on a human level. This allows us to hear viewpoints that we otherwise would have never heard within our own echo chambers.
With this said, I find it fascinating that some of my peers are protesting the selection of Vice President Pence as the Commencement speaker for this year’s graduation. In an article previously published in The Observer, students stated that Pence represents values that “silences certain minority groups” due to statements he made in the past. I want to take this opportunity to state this simple fact: Every single rational student at the University of Notre Dame will never support any infringement on any person’s right to speak or any acts of attainder against people of any background in this country. However, it is vital for us to use reason to separate words from action. Silencing of opinion and elimination of rights can only come about through actions. Words cannot silence one from speaking or prevent one from conducting his or her own life how he or she chooses. Unless the former Indiana governor directly supports acts that try to do either of those two, qualms about Vice President Pence’s Commencement speech seem to be rather unfounded. And with that said, it is important to note that Vice President Pence has not tried to suppress speech or minorities at all.
This leads us to a critical question: What does it say about an individual that a politician’s words make he or she feel like they are being silenced? The cliche “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is cliche for a reason: It is true. The words of a politician cannot harm any individual — only the actions of a politician can. It is also important to note that the very fact many students are upset at Vice President Pence’s past words means they have not learned the most vital part of civilized society: tolerating other points of view. An opposing point of view should never be decried as “making one feel unsafe.” The only way a person can feel that way is if they let that view emotionally impact their actions and cause them to act differently than if the opinion was not uttered. I’m sorry, but that is a sign of immaturity that will cause one to become functionless within actual society. Not every single person in the entirety of society will agree with your opinions; this is a simple fact of life. What each and every student here must be willing to do is put personal animosity for words aside and instead recognize that the second most powerful person in the entire world has been invited to speak at our University. Whether that person was Mike Pence or Tim Kaine, it should not matter. We should be honored that Vice President Pence agreed to speak, and we should give him the respect we should be giving to all people: respect for his right to speak. Protesting his Commencement speech is support of silencing his right to speak. Each of us individually would not want our speech to be silenced, so the least each and every one of us can do is apply that same standard to the Vice President. I ask all students who have chosen to force themselves to feel unsafe over the Vice President speaking respect this basic standard of civilized society.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.