U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will serve as this year’s commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame and receive an honorary degree, the university announced Thursday. It’s the first time a Vice President has delivered the commencement address.
“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,” said Notre Dame President Father John I. Jenkins in making the announcement.
“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.”
In recent years, the choice of commencement speakers at Notre Dame has frequently been a source of controversy, as various figures, including at times members of the country’s Catholic hierarchy, have complained that honoring politicians who take stands at odds with Church teaching sends the wrong signal.
The selection of President Barack Obama in 2008 is the best-known example, which stirred a national debate about the responsibility of Catholic universities to balance open discussion with their witness to core Catholic teachings.
Although Pence’s pro-life credentials seem unlikely to spark a similar kind of backlash, other policies of the Trump administration have been roundly criticized by many of the country’s bishops, prominently featuring a flurry of executive orders and memoranda concerning immigrants and refugees.
As the governor of Indiana, Pence also drew fire from both LGBT activists and, at one stage, then-Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, now of Newark, for his ban on settling Syrian refugees in the state.
Given the high profile Notre Dame enjoys, it seems likely those issues may be raised in some fashion in the run-up to the May 21 commencement address as well as on the day itself.
Born and raised Catholic, Pence reportedly at one stage considered a vocation to the Catholic priesthood. Later in life, however, he gravitated towards Evangelical Christianity, and at one stage described himself as an “Evangelical Catholic.”
Pence will become the 127th commencement speaker at Notre Dame. It’s the university’s custom also to award an honorary degree to that speaker.
Although it’s traditional for U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents to deliver commencement addresses each spring, the White House has yet to announce any such commitments for President Donald Trump in 2017.
“It is extraordinarily humbling to return to my home state and address the graduates of Notre Dame,” Pence said in a statement Thursday.
“The young adults in the Class of 2017 will leave school with the charge and opportunity to make new discoveries and assume leadership roles that will make a profound impact benefiting the lives of millions of people. The hopes of their parents and our country go with them as they enter a world filled with optimism for the future,” he said.