Unity among the students despite differing opinions was important to graduating students during Taylor University’s 2019 commencement ceremony.

Vice President Mike Pence, who arrived in Muncie’s Delaware County Regional Airport and delivered his commencement address at the university Saturday had some Taylor students voicing their opinions.

Before taking the stage some students and faculty walked out during the song “Be Thou My Vision” which played right before Pence’s speech. Some who walked out returned after the vice president had delivered his speech.

Pence said he wanted to extend President Donald Trump’s congratulations to the class of 2019 and said it was a great time to be a Taylor graduate because America had a “renewed optimism.”

Pence spoke to the students about the job market claiming unemployment was at a near-50-year low and there were more job openings than Americans looking for work.

He also spoke about his return to his Christian faith after an interaction with a friend and attending a youth Christian music festival.

Pence said this was a time where religious belief was under assault and that there had been “unspeakable acts of violence” committed against religious communities. He asked for graduates to be ready to face opposition when they stand up for their faith. 

“Go show the world everyday that we can love God and love our neighbor at the same time,” Pence said.  

He promised he would always stand up for religious freedom.

“Never stop believing, never stop serving and always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have,” Pence told the graduates.

Vice President Mike Pence stands before the crowd at Odle Arena on the campus of Taylor University May 18, 2019, during the university's commencement ceremony. Pence spoke about the U.S. economy and protection of religious freedom. Scott Fleener, DN

Some students protested the event by creating a change.org petition asking Taylor to rescind the invitation with over 8,000 signatures. Some also showed support for the vice president through another petition on the site with over 6,000 signatures.

Others also found the reaction of the student body on finding out Pence was invited to speak to be an “overreaction.”

“I mean he was already invited,” said Ellen Adle. “I think we just needed [to accept] this is what’s going to happen. This is done and be done with it.”

Mary Wurster said she felt it “was kind of insane” some couldn’t accept diversity in opinions something she said was important.

Laura Raghburn, one of the students who signed the petition asking the university to rescind their invitation, was planning on walking out during Pence’s speech because she felt his presence made it “very difficult for all minority and LGBTQ students and people in the community to feel welcomed.”

“I was really disappointed in this decision to welcome Mike Pence,” Raghburn said. “But I’ve really been really proud of our senior class and how we’ve reacted and we’re really focusing our unity and being respectful of our opinions and just focusing on our graduation.” 

The word “unity” was used by many of the graduates attending the commencement.

“I think that hopefully, you’ll see that even though there will be people that are walking out we will still be unified as a class overall, and even though we have disagreements we’re able to be unified especially by our belief in Jesus Christ,” said Daniel Boy, who was thankful that Taylor invited Pence. 

Tanner Huber, who felt honored Pence was speaking, said, “I mean we’re in the middle of a cornfield — Taylor University — the people make it what it is and … naturally, we come together.”

Contact Scott Fleener with comments at jsfleener@bsu.edu or on Twitter @Scott_Reports.