On Sunday, May 21, as Vice President Mike Pence took the stage to give a commencement speech at Notre Dame, a large group of graduates walked out of the ceremony. The moment immediately went viral.
— WNDU (@WNDU) May 21, 2017
To onlookers, the walkout could be interpreted as a spontaneous moment of protest against Pence and the Trump administration. However, this show of resistance was an organized effort coordinated by students.
The walkout was not a spontaneous effort to protest Pence, but a thought out plan by several students, including Xitlaly Estrada.
CREDIT: Facebook/Xitlaly Estrada
The Latina graduate from Bakersfield, Calif., was one of the students who spearheaded the walkout.
In an interview with mitú, Estrada, who is also the president of the Latino Student Alliance on campus, says she was immediately bothered that Pence was chosen to give the commencement speech.
“Initially when the invite went out, we were all a little more than hesitant to attend, especially because this administration has been denigrating people of color and minority groups,” said the 21-year-old, who graduated with a double in Political Science and Latino Studies.
“My biggest concern was that this day, that was supposed to be for my family and their sacrifices that led me to be able to graduate from the University of Notre Dame, would be overshadowed by someone who has openly endorsed their denigration and has corroborated their marginalization as an immigrant group, as Mexicans, as, at one point, people who worked in the fields, as people who work in the service sector, and they would have to hear that person speak at my commencement.”
Estrada says she and her family have had several conversations about the threat they face under the Trump Administration.
CREDIT: Xitlaly Estrada and her sister who graduated from Law School
So Estrada and a group of students at Notre Dame decided they had to build a platform in order to fight against the hateful rhetoric.
Estrada is a part of We Stand For, an organizing coalition of student activists at the University of Notre Dame that has initiated several protests on campus, including the walkout.
CREDIT: Facebook/We Stand For
On its website, We Stand For says: “We first organized in support of sanctuary campus policies for our undocumented/DACA students Now, we continue our work in support of all those marginalized by University or government policies, to ensure that everyone has access to a safe and supportive educational environment.”
“This administration is not ready to represent us,” says Estrada.
CREDIT: Facebook/We Stand For
“There’s a perceivable threat, with the upping of deportations, and that is sending a real message to our community,” Estrada says. “Just because you’re not undocumented, you have friends and family that are, and that reverberates in the community.”
Estrada’s family decided not to attend the commencement ceremony.
CREDIT: Xitlaly Estrada
Her family opted to attend other graduation festivities because Estrada says she didn’t want to subject them to any issues.
“My parents are immigrants and they’re in constant state of discomfort,” Estrada says. “I don’t think my parents have ever felt comfortable in this country,” adding that both her parents speak in broken English.
Estrada says her parents didn’t want her to partake in the walkout because they were simply worried about her.
CREDIT: Xitlaly Estrada with her family.
They also didn’t want Pence or any negativity to take away from her big moment. But she insisted and told them how important this moment would be.
Estrada told her family that she didn’t want to be complacent and her mother was the first one to give her full support.
“She wanted to make sure I didn’t walk out alone,” Estrada says. “She told me ‘la union hace la fuerza.'”
About 150 graduates walked out during Pence’s speech. Here’s the celebration that took place afterwards.
Posted by We Stand For on Sunday, May 21, 2017
Several groups from campus took part in the walkout including Latinx, LGBTQ, and other minority groups and supporters. They planned the walkout for weeks and made sure they took all things into consideration, including having a coherent message and answering questions from concerned students.
Estrada plans to follow in her sister’s footsteps and attend law school. She said her dream job as a lawyer would be to work for the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund.