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Mike Pence gives Taylor University commencement address

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BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

UPLAND — About 40 Taylor University faculty and students walked out before Vice President Mike Pence gave his address at the university’s commencement Saturday morning.

But Pence, Indiana’s 50th governor, received an overwhelmingly warm welcome from the graduates, family and friends present, who greeted him with multiple standing ovations over the course of the morning.

The vice president told Taylor’s 494 graduates that it was a great time to be graduating in an America he described as being in “a new era of optimism and opportunity.”

“Today there are more job openings in America than there are Americans looking for work. That’s great timing,” Pence told Taylor's class of 2019.

 

Pence also offered President Donald Trump’s personal congratulations to the departing class.

The speech turned personal as Pence recounted his own religious experiences from college, including the moment he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Pence told students to be prepared to face pushback for their Christian beliefs.

“Lately it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign traditional Christian beliefs. So as you prepare to leave this place and build your life on the Christ-centered world-engaging foundation poured here at Taylor University, be prepared to stand up. … And as you stand up, be prepared to face opposition,” Pence said.

“Go and show the world that you can love God and love your neighbor at the same time,” the vice president said.

He promised the audience that he will defend freedom of religion “and the right of every American to live to learn and to worship according to the dictates of your conscience.”

Taylor students and faculty who had walked out returned after Pence's speech to participate in the rest of commencement. Some wore "We are Taylor too" stickers on their robes and hats in protest of the vice president, and a few graduates refused to shake Pence's hand as they walked across the stage after receiving their diplomas. 

Students and faculty opposed to the vice president's appearance at the ceremony said they were concerned his presence made some feel unwelcome and were uncomfortable with the university associating itself with the Trump administration through the invitation to Pence. 

The ceremony was designed to accommodate students and faculty who objected to the vice president’s presence, according to Director of Media Relations Jim Garringer.

Hymns before and after Pence’s speech allowed time for the walk-out and for those who walked out to return and receive their diplomas.

“For those who were not as happy about it, we accept that, we love them. For the ones who were happy about it, we accept them and love them as well. As we move forward we want to embrace every member of our community,” Garringer said.

But for many at Taylor Pence's appearance was exciting and awe-inspiring. Taylor graduates speaking before the ceremony about the vice president’s visit called it “an honor” and said the controversy sparked by his invitation has been more positive than negative for the school’s close-knit community.

“Discussion on campus has actually been better, I think. I think that it’s been more honest, people are more willing to talk about things and to say what they believe,” said Jakob Heggeland, an accounting systems major who graduated Saturday.

“We’re still a community, one unit in Christ. It’s brought everyone closer, (and) I don’t feel any tension,” said Lacey Garrett, a graduate who majored in business finance and accounting.

Avery Amstutz, who graduated with a marketing degree, said that during graduation practice administration emphasized coming together as a family, and film major and graduate Caleb Truax III said he felt the majority of the graduating class was supportive and excited to host Pence.

Pence’s visit wasn’t the only notable part of this year’s commencement. Taylor also graduated its 25,000th student Saturday, and graduate Rachel Rohwer was the university’s first to complete a degree in a new program, Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Rohwer was one of several Taylor students mentioned by name during Pence’s address.

Heggeland and Evan Crowe, who were roommates and teammates at Taylor, said Pence’s presence made Saturday a day to remember.

“We’ve been through a lot together, … (so) it’s a good way to see a door close,” Heggeland said.