Notre Dame breaks unofficial tradition, announces Vice President Pence as 2017 Commencement Speaker

Today, Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced that Vice President Mike Pence will speak at Notre Dame’s 2017 commencement ceremony, where he will also be awarded an honorary degree. Before being elected, Vice President Pence served as the governor of Indiana and a U.S. Representative.  

Since entering politics, Pence has repeatedly emphasized the role that his faith plays in his action. At the 2016 Republican Convention, Pence described himself, saying, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” As Indiana governor in March 2016, he signed legislation that banned selective abortion based on the baby’s “race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex” as well as the baby’s genetic disabilities. When he did so, he released a statement saying “I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers, and families.” In January 2017, Pence became the first vice president to speak at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C, where he declared that, “we will not grow wearied, we will not rest until we restore a culture of life in America for ourselves and our posterity.”

In the university’s official announcement, Jenkins wrote, “It is fitting that in the 175th year of our founding on Indiana soil that Notre Dame recognize a native son who served our state and now the nation with quiet earnestness, moral conviction and a dedication to the common good characteristic of true statesmen.” The statement continued, “With his own brand of reserved dignity, Mike Pence instilled confidence on the state level then, and on the world stage now. We are proud to welcome him to represent the new administration.”

The announcement of Pence as a commencement speaker ends months of uncertainty regarding who would deliver the commencement address. For many years, Notre Dame has had an unofficial tradition of hosting newly-elected presidents at commencement and awarding them with honorary degrees. This tradition caused great controversy in 2009 with the invitation of President Barack Obama, whom many argued should not have been invited due to his pro-choice stance on abortion which runs in clear opposition to Church teaching.

The Rover reached out to several organizations and individuals for their reaction. While conservative groups supported Pence speaking, they expressed mixed opinions regarding Notre Dame not inviting President Trump. The College Democrats, on the other hand, disagreed with the university’s decision.

Notre Dame College Republicans focused on their support for Pence, saying that they “are very proud to have Notre Dame host Vice President Mike Pence as this year’s commencement speaker. Vice President Pence has a proven track record of Conservative principles and has staunchly defended Christian values during his time in public office.” Overall, they “are excited for him to return [to Notre Dame] as the Vice President of the United States to deliver the keynote speech at this year’s commencement ceremony.” College Republicans President Pat Crane added, “He is a wonderful man, a dutiful husband, a fantastic father, a role model of public and community service, a stalwart conservative, and most importantly a man of God. Vice President Pence, then Governor, was gracious enough to come to campus to meet with NDCRs last year, and we’re proud of his accomplishments and successes in driving our nation towards recovery after the failed Obama era.”

Notre Dame Young Americans for Freedom echoed support for Pence, but said they “are very disappointed in Fr. Jenkins’ decision to cave to protest and disrupt the university’s unique and prestigious 64-year tradition.” They continued, saying “Jenkins had no problem overcoming the contradictory values of former President Obama, and he paid no mind to those who protested his invitation to commencement.  We also find it incredibly hard to believe that Jenkins would have invited Senator Kaine over Hillary Clinton had the Democrats won the election, despite her similar lack of Catholic values that those who protested President Trump claimed he lacked.”

College Democrats of Notre Dame, however, reacted critically to the announcement, saying, “We are profoundly disappointed that Fr. Jenkins has selected Vice President Mike Pence as commencement speaker. The Vice President has a long record of discrimination and intolerance, and he has no business sharing the stage with the graduating class of 2017.”

Father Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C., Professor of History, responded to the invitation saying, “I am very glad that Notre Dame will honor Vice President Mike Pence at its upcoming commencement ceremony. He is clearly a man of integrity and decency. I regret that the tepid Notre Dame announcement did not focus more attention on his deep pro-life commitments which were so evidently on display at the March for Life this year. Also, his willingness to defend the religious freedom of institutions like Notre Dame surely should have been noted with gratitude. Whatever particular political disagreements one might have with the Vice President, he is surely a worthy choice for our Catholic university. I trust he will give a thoughtful address to the benefit of the graduates and their families.” [Editor’s Note: Fr. Miscamble is a faculty advisor to the Irish Rover.]

We Stand For reacted with strong criticism to Vice President’s invitation, saying, in part, “simply put, we are disappointed, dismayed, and dissatisfied with this decision. University President Fr. John Jenkins praised Pence’s “quiet earnestness, moral conviction and…dedication to the common good,” but his record makes clear that he is more dedicated to discrimination and exclusion than to the well-being of Americans.”

William Dempsey, president of the Sycamore Trust, found “inviting the Vice President simply highlights the bypassing of the President.” He continued, “had Father Jenkins conceded honoring Obama was a mistake and scrapped the tradition, honoring Pence would be fitting. Instead, he has insisted he would “do it again” for Obama but will not for Trump. The impression of hypocrisy is unavoidable.”

Julia McKeon is a freshman studying theology and political science. Contact Julia at