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Pence to speak at Taylor commencement

TAYLOR'S COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER: Vice President Mike Pence poses for his official portrait at The White House, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. Official White House photo by D. Myles Cullen.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

Taylor University has announced that Vice President Mike Pence will be its featured commencement speaker.

“Taylor University is pleased and honored to welcome to our campus and its 2019 Commencement exercises, Vice President Mike Pence,” said Taylor’s president, Dr. Paul Lowell Haines. “Mr. Pence has been a good friend to the University over many years, and is a Christian brother whose life and values have exemplified what we strive to instill in our graduates."

However, not everyone at Taylor University is happy about the university's choice. 

A petition to protest the vice president and former Indiana governor's invitation on the website Change.org, titled "Protest U.S. Vice President Pence Delivering Commencement Address at Taylor University," had amassed more than 1,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon, hours after the news broke.

One person who signed the petition is 2018 Taylor alumni Elizabeth Vandegriff.

"I’m really disappointed that the school would invite someone who is clearly associated with the current administration which has a polarizing effect on people," Vandegriff said. "The fact that Taylor would take sides in that by inviting someone of that administration ... (does not sit) right with a lot of students."

The announcement has been met with some support as well. 

"I think it's actually a really good idea (to host Pence)," said LeeAnna Davis, a student senator and Taylor senior. "Especially if our goal as a community and a Christian university is to get publicity as a small Christian university. This did that for us."

Davis said inviting Pence to speak isn't the same thing as aligning the university with Pence's views. But Davis wanted to make clear she doesn't agree with everything he stands for.

"He has portrayed himself as full of hatred towards these people groups," Davis said, speaking of Pence's record on LGBT issues. 

Pence is the 48th vice president of the United States. He previously served as the 50th governor of the State of Indiana and was elected to Congress six times by the voters of East Central Indiana.

In 2016, Pence was chosen by President Donald Trump as his running mate. After winning the presidency on Nov. 8, 2016, Trump and Pence entered office on Jan. 20, 2017.

Pence is a graduate of Hanover College and the Indiana University School of Law. Pence practiced law, led the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and hosted The Mike Pence Show, a syndicated talk radio show and a weekly television public affairs program in Indiana.

According to Taylor's Director of Media Relations Jim Garringer, this year there will be a larger-than-usual graduating class and a larger crowd at graduation.

As a result, Taylor officials say tickets, which are free, will be required to attend graduation. Tickets will be distributed to Taylor’s Class of 2019 and their families.

Normally, Taylor does not require tickets to attend its graduation ceremonies.

"We welcome the Vice President and his wife, Karen Pence, to this 173-year-old premier institution of Christian higher education, and thank them for their love and service for our nation, our state, and our institution," Haines added.

The commencement ceremony is Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m. inside the Kesler Student Activities Center.