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Graduates walk out on Vice-President Pence at Notre Dame commencement

Dozens of graduates and family members silently stood and walked out Sunday as Vice-President Mike Pence began his address at Notre Dame's commencement ceremony in South Bend, Indiana.

Pence doesn't comment on walkout but says 'free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America'

Notre Dame graduates walk out of Notre Dame Stadium in protest as U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence speaks during the 2017 commencement ceremony on Sunday in South Bend, Ind. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

Dozens of graduates and family members silently stood and walked out Sunday as Vice-President Mike Pence began his address at Notre Dame's commencement ceremony in South Bend, Indiana.

Pence, the former governor of Indiana, was invited to speak after Notre Dame students and faculty protested the prospect of President Donald Trump being invited to become the seventh U.S. president to give the commencement address.

Pence spoke briefly of Trump, praising his speech to the leaders of 50 Arab and Muslim nations earlier in the day in Saudi Arabia. Pence said the president "spoke out against religious persecution of all people of all faiths and on the world stage, He condemned, in his words, the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians."

Dozens walked out on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's commencement address at Indiana's University of Notre Dame on Sunday. 1:03

Trump has faced harsh criticism for his anti-Islamic rhetoric during the election campaign, as well as his administration's legal battle to impose a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.

Earlier in the ceremony, valedictorian Caleb Joshua Pine urged a "stand against the scapegoating of Muslims" and criticized Trump's push to build a wall along the Mexican border.

Notre Dame graduates walk out of Notre Dame Stadium. Earlier in the ceremony, valedictorian Caleb Joshua Pine criticized Trump's push to build a wall along the Mexican border. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

Cassandra Dimaro and her parents were among those who walked out. Dimaro told the South Bend Tribune that it was a show of solidarity "for those of us impacted by the policies of the Trump administration."

Pence didn't comment on the walkout, which was expected, but he did allude to clashes at campuses elsewhere that have derailed appearances by controversial speakers, such as conservative firebrand Ann Coulter at the University of California at Berkeley.

"This university (Notre Dame) is a vanguard of the freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas at a time, sadly, when free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America," he said.

Notre Dame president John Jenkins, left, shakes hands with Pence as he receives an honourary degree. Pence didn't comment on the walkout, which was expected. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)