University of Notre Dame students walked out of their own graduation Sunday to protest Vice President Mike Pence giving their commencement speech.
As soon as Pence took the stage to a mixture of boos and applause, a large group of students stood up and started filing out of the university's football stadium. Some wore LGBT flags wrapped around them, or wrote phrases of protest on their graduation caps.
This was one of Pence's few public appearances over the past couple of weeks. The vice president has stayed notably silent as his administration wades through scandal and controversy over investigations into its connections with Russia.
"It's deeply humbling for me to participate in the 172nd commencement in Notre Dame's 175th year," Pence said as students stood to turn their backs on him and leave.
Pence is the former governor of Indiana, where Notre Dame is located.
The school's livestream of the event stayed focused on Pence's address, but many in the audience filmed the walkouts from different angles, with mixed reactions of surprise, support, and anger.
The walkout was planned by students beforehand, in protest of policies Pence implemented while governor of Indiana, as well as his actions as vice president.
A co-organizer of the protest, Luis Miranda, told CNN that he and his fellow students believe Pence's policies target vulnerable and marginalized populations in the US because of their sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity, and that these are not values that the Catholic university should be celebrating.
Some of Miranda's family members attending his graduation are undocumented immigrants, he said, and have felt directly targeted by Trump and Pence's campaign and the policies they have been pushing in office.
"They are going to be in the audience in one of the most important moments of my life with someone targeting them for who they are," he said of his graduation.
The Facebook event for the protest calls on students to "walk out in dignity and solidarity with all marginalized people affected by Pence's politics, both on this campus and throughout our nation."
The students also made a YouTube video to spread the word of the walkout. The video features a number of students condemning the university for inviting a politician who has implemented "anti-LGBT" laws and who is part of an administration they say has shown disrespect for women, people of color, and Muslims.
"As a member of the small but proud LGBTQ community at Notre Dame, the university's support of an anti-LGBTQ politician is both frustrating and sad," one student says.
Another student talked about being sexually assaulted at Notre Dame during their time there, and said they they feel that bringing a member of an administration that has been "pretty vocally okay with" sexual assault, "even to the extent of bragging about it," (presumably a reference to the infamous tapes of Trump talking about grabbing women "by the pussy") makes them feel unsafe.
Notre Dame Vice President for Public Affairs Paul Browne said in a statement that the university has been the site of protests of presidents and vice presidents in the past, and that it would allow the protest to occur as long as it did not disrupt the graduation ceremony. He added that the administration was more concerned with potential thunderstorms during the event.
Ema O'Connor is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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