Last Sunday, dozens of graduating students at Notre Dame stood up and walked out in protest of their commencement speaker, Vice President Mike Pence. While a civil expression of free speech, the act begs the question of what offended these students so much that they decided it was worth missing their graduation ceremony and disrespecting the sitting Vice President of the United States of America?
These students who decided to get up, disrupt, and miss a speech by someone they dissent with are the epitome of so many of our generation, if not the larger American population. College students, and many Americans in general, have seemingly forgotten that dissent is a good thing. We need to be exposed to competing ideas and differing world views. It is such differences that allow us to sit down together, work together, and come up with the best plan, the best solution. Or, at least, this used to be the case.
Today, many college students are so polarized and so intolerant of other’s opinions that they are setting themselves up to face a harsh reality when they enter the post-college world: life is tough, and it doesn’t always go your way. If a student cannot sit down and listen to a short graduation speech by a man with whom they disagree with, what will they do when they go into their first job and disagree with their boss or co-worker? Will they similarly get up and walk out? All signs point to yes.
There are going to be daily occurrences during which the ability to listen and show respect is demanded by peers. At worst, the ability to come to a conclusion where each party agrees to disagree and moves on will be of essence. You don’t always have to agree – you rarely will – but our success is dependent on our ability to listen to and build off of each other. If our generation continues to allow dissent to send us running away from trial and tribulation, unable to face and work with opposing views, we do not stand a chance in this world.
The show we saw put on by graduating seniors at Notre Dame should make us all worried for the future and it points to a weakness in many with this mindset.
United States Senator Ben Sasse recently wrote an article and has an upcoming book in which he describes a mindset of those in their young 20s as “perpetual adolescence.” This is, without a doubt, applicable to the mindset of these graduating seniors and the countless other students Pence described in his speech. Adulthood is often highlighted by maturity, and maturity by reason and understanding. But there is nothing reasonable about, nor any real understanding in, failing to take in a viewpoint other than your own.
This lack of maturity we saw Sunday largely stems from the failure of those who influenced and educated these students: the university, the parents, and even ourselves, their peers. At a university whose mission statement includes, “The intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students,” some of its students failed to live out what their university strives to accomplish. These students failed to engage in successful intellectual interchange. By walking out on their school and their Vice President, these students walked out on the chance to learn and grow. They walked out on the chance to rise above partisan politics and political differences. They walked out on the chance to be an adult.
The truth is, we can all find much more we agree on than which we disagree upon. But to come to this understanding, you first have to sit down at the table to begin with.