Why I Walked

(NOTE: I originally wrote this intending to post it on Facebook but I changed my mind for several reasons (some of which I actually bring up), so if you're reading it here, you'll probably be one of the only people to actually read it at all. Just for the sake of context, here's an article about the protest.)

Happy Memorial Day and thank you to those in the military who have given and are giving their life to protect our rights and freedoms, especially because last Sunday I benefitted from my right to an education by graduating from Notre Dame and I exercised my freedom of speech by silently and peacefully walking out on our Vice President.

I am proud of both.

Now I know I usually only post on here with updates about my family (which I promise to return to as soon as I’m done here), but for now I do think it’s important to explain myself and my actions, so feel free to either keep reading what might be a very long post or to simply stop now and wait for future family updates.

Now for those of you still with me, I’d like to start by saying that my reason for writing this in the first place is because I feel that by not owning up to my actions, I will cheapen them, so this is my attempt at explaining myself. I’d also like to note that I have had several people who I trust from both sides of the political extremes read this and give me their thoughts on it, and so I truly hope that none of what I’m about to say comes off as alienating to anyone of any political leaning. Because we're all friends here.

That being said, I think social media is the worst place to have political discussions because nobody ever “wins” the comment section of a Facebook post or a late-night Twitter thread or even a heated Myspace war (if you’re still into that), so I ask that you keep any debate in the comments constructive and civil. Even better, I encourage you to message me (although I’ll be the first to admit that I’m bad at staying in touch digitally) or better yet to talk to me face-to-face about your own thoughts and opinions, because they are all valid.

In fact, in the days since last Sunday, it is because of differing thoughts and opinions that I’ve had some of the most productive and rewarding conversations with family and friends all across the political spectrum who both agree and disagree with my actions. Some were with my Catholic school-educated little sister who’s not quite sure if she completely supports my walking out (and doesn’t need to because she can think for herself!), while others were with old teachers with whom my last interactions were much less political and much more all-boys-high-school-means-i-can-take-my-shirt-off-in-latin-class-ical. In other words, if you disagree with me on everything else, I hope you’ll at least agree that our silent protest has opened an important dialogue.

Then again, I understand that some of you, maybe a lot of you, might then counter me and ask, “By walking out on Pence, aren’t you rejecting that dialogue?” to which I would argue that we are neither rejecting this dialogue nor are we necessarily rejecting the Vice President himself. Most importantly, however, we are not rejecting those of you who do support him and his administration nor are we rejecting the fact that the election in November was our nation’s truest form of dialogue. Instead, last Sunday’s protest is at worst our rejection of the policies and administrations that our Vice President stands for, and at best our sign of support for the people who we believe his policies and administration do not support, including the LGBTQ community, undocumented citizens, women, Muslims, and even students in our public school system.

I would like to point out that our protest consisted primarily of people from these marginalized communities, and not “liberal snowflakes” or “privileged elitists,” and in fact, if anybody is deserving of this name calling, it would be me. However, it is precisely because I do not identify as any of the minorities stated above (and instead am what most people would call a straight, white, male who just graduated from a private university), that I believe it to be even more vital that I fight (or at least walk out) for those who are not as privileged as me.

Now for those of you who would then argue that our silent protest was a sign of disrespect to our country’s second highest government official, I would start by pointing in the direction of footage from Obama’s ‘09 commencement speech during which protests were a little more audible and a little more disrespectful to our country’s former highest government official. That being said, I am not criticizing those protesters because they also have their God-given right to free speech. In fact, our current Vice President should be the first to support both protests as his own address last week warned against the “suppression of the freedom of speech” on college campuses. As for the fact that we could have stayed home and skipped the commencement ceremony entirely, I would like to affirm that our walk out was in fact an active form of respectful protest (that both the university and the other students were aware would happen) against the policies and the administration that the Vice President stands for, and not simply a refusal to listen to his address.

And so, whether you agree or disagree with my reasons for walking out, I hope our protest has at least opened up for you the same dialogue that it has for my family and friends and which is what we need right now more than ever. We need to keep that dialogue open because we need to hear both sides and we need to empathize with both sides.

In the end, I’ll confess that this walk out really did push me out of my comfort zone, but having done it, I am proud to say that I have been a part of something bigger than myself and I am lucky to have graduated from a university that truly is “a vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas,” as our Vice President himself put it.

Finally, I want to thank my family and friends who have supported me in this small act of protest during our commencement, as well as the many more years of education and hard work that it took to get to this commencement.

Finally finally, if I have any regrets concerning my walking out, it is only that I took the spotlight away from a much more deserving individual that day: our Valedictorian speaker who I’m also lucky enough to call my friend and fellow Siegfried Rambler, CJ Pine. 

Below all of this, I’ll copy the URL to CJ’s full speech because I encourage you all to watch and/or read it (multiple times), but for now I would now like to end on his words: “When we follow the deeper callings of justice and proclaim the deeper magic of love and sacrifice that connect all of us – no matter which corner of the world we come from, then we will be true to what we have learned at Notre Dame. Then we will be true to our humanity, to the person that God has called each of us to be.”

God bless America, God bless all of you, and God bless those who have sacrificed themselves for our rights and freedoms on this Memorial Day.

Thank you.

VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT OF CJ'S SPEECH

Tanner Cipriano