We, the undersigned alumni/ae, faculty, and staff of the University of Notre Dame, first and foremost, congratulate you and extend our full support in anticipation of your commencement day.
As Father Jenkins noted in his discernment regarding commencement speaker selection, graduation is a day for graduates and their parents, guardians, and families who have made such extraordinary sacrifices for them to attend the University.
Commencement is an opportunity for the University to celebrate its students’ journeys in pursuit of truth; to thank them for their contributions to the community of learning; and to send graduates forth with the hope they will use their knowledge and experiences in service to humanity. Our University’s mission makes clear that we, as students, graduates, faculty, and staff, must strive “to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.”
Given the nature of commencement and our mission as a University, we are disappointed to find that Vice President Pence will be the University's commencement speaker. We believe that the Vice President actively opposes this sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good.
During his tenure as Governor of Indiana, Pence pursued policies that harmed the most vulnerable citizens of the state. He cut funding for public health interventions and delayed in removing a ban on needle exchange programs, leading to the worst HIV outbreak in state history; proposed to turn away refugee families fleeing war and violence and withheld aid and state services to resettled Syrians; signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act discriminating against members of the LGBTQ community, while endorsing conversion therapy programs; and ignored lead contamination in the predominantly African-American city of East Chicago. Now, in the White House, he tacitly approves President Trump’s unjust policies toward refugees and immigrants. As Father Jenkins noted, this immigration policy “halts the work of valued students and colleagues who have already passed a rigorous, post-9/11 review process, are vouched for by the university and have contributed so much to our campuses.”
Vice President Pence has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of concern for the common good and the values promoted by Notre Dame. Therefore, we are writing this letter in solidarity with every student, faculty, and staff member who is marginalized or threatened by Vice President Pence’s words and deeds, and the policies and rhetoric of the current White House administration. We hope his unfortunate selection as commencement speaker inspires all of us to reaffirm our own commitment to social justice.
We want to assure you that regardless of the commencement speaker, commencement day is yours. You’ve worked hard during your years at Notre Dame and you have earned this degree. Your contributions as students have made Notre Dame a better place, and we anticipate you will continue to strengthen it as alums. Your differing identities, backgrounds, and beliefs have enriched the University and the lives of your fellow students, faculty, and staff. This day and this University belong to you.
As you graduate, we encourage you to use your degree to serve the world, to take care of your brothers and sisters, and to show love in all that you do. That will be one of the best, most enduring ways to oppose Vice President Pence and the harmful ideas and policies espoused by him and the current administration.
The University of Notre Dame is about a simple idea: that being brothers and sisters to one another is our highest calling. This conviction pervades the way we read and the way we research, how we compete and how we create, how we live and how we love. The beauty of this community is that the students, faculty, staff, and alums love Notre Dame so much, they push it to become better. Their dedication to the University is surpassed by their devotion to one another. That’s why it is called the Notre Dame Family.
Congratulations on your graduation.