Last weekend, I attended Grove City College’s commencement events as a credentialed representative of the DISHONEST MEDIA.
If I’m being honest, I mostly just wanted to see my friends graduate and getting a press pass was easier than getting a ticket. But I was also interested in seeing what would happen.
Vice President Mike Pence was the highest-profile and most polarizing commencement speaker the small Pennsylvania school has ever landed, and unlike most colleges in America, GCC doesn’t really do protests. Grove City envisions and portrays itself as a bastion of conservatism, and most members of the community seem to buy into that vision.
For some, though, inviting President Trump’s VP to address the Class of 2017 was the final straw.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, graduating senior Jason Dauer said he was “worried that” the College was “aligning more with a political party…than with Christ,” while rising senior Molly Wicker wrote in an op-ed that recently ran in the New York Times that the school was “sending graduates a message that undermines the intention of this institution.”
Several left-leaning members of the GCC community acted on these feelings of betrayal and alienation by forming the Facebook group “GAIA” (GCC Advocates for Inclusion and Acceptance).
I myself was accepted and included in GAIA until I said something mildly controversial, pissed off some people who I have no problem calling “snowflakes” (despite my usual hatred for that term), and was quickly banned by a particularly zealous moderator who describes herself on Facebook as “Disabled. Queer. Agnostic. Opinionated.”
Several GAIA members signed a strongly worded letter to GCC president Paul J. McNulty and teamed up with the Slippery Rock Huddle, a group of carpetbagging LGBT advocates from the neighboring—and clearly inferior—Slippery Rock University, to protest Pence’s appearance.
As a private institution, GCC had the right to bar demonstrators from entering its campus, but there was still a chance of a spontaneous walkout by students or unrest downtown.
Would a mob of GAIA members charge the stage as “Pomp and Circumstance” played? Would Trump resign halfway through the speech, forcing Pence to take the oath of office right then and there? Would protesters smash the windows of the local coffee shop while tear gas billowed over Broad Street?
Thankfully, none of these things happened.
I was penned in with the rest of the fake news media, so I wasn’t able to observe the protests in town, but based on local newspaper reports and accounts I heard from friends later that day, they were nothing special.
Around 200 people turned out to march down Grove City’s main street (which is about five blocks long, so I’m not sure what they did for the rest of the time). At least one counter-protester walked alongside them holding an anti-abortion sign, and a few passing motorists harassed the marchers by yelling out their windows or trying to “smoke them out” with car exhaust.
Things stayed (relatively) calm on campus, too.
Unlike at Notre Dame, where Pence delivered the commencement address the next day and several dozen students walked out in the middle of the ceremony, every member of the GCC Class of 2017 stayed in his or her seat. I counted 10 or so students with LGBT slogans on their mortarboards, and a few walked past Pence without shaking his hand as they crossed the stage.
Even Dauer, who gained a reputation as something of a firebrand this year by authoring the aforementioned letter to college president McNulty and publicly coming out in the student newspaper, simply walked past with a polite “No thank you.”
The speech itself was mostly typical commencement address bromides except for a brief moment when Pence pointed to Trump as “an example of leadership and perseverance,” causing me to wince and about half the crowd to applaud.
The next day at Notre Dame, Pence laid into “administration-sanctioned political correctness…which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech.”
He didn’t say anything like that at GCC, and he didn’t need to.
“This is what democracy looks like” was the chant taken up by some of the GCC protesters, and on that point I heartily agree. Private property and freedom of speech were protected on both sides, and the few troublemakers weren’t allowed to set the tone.
Full disclosure: I graduated from Grove City College in 2016 and worked with Ms. Wicker on the GCC student newspaper. I’m very proud of her.
CORRECTION: This article initially stated that Dauer shook Vice President Pence’s hand. He did not and the piece has been edited to reflect that.