Graduating students at Bethune-Cookman University were as shocked as everyone else when it was announced Betsy DeVos would be speaking at their graduation. Probably more so. While many people expressed their disapproval of the school’s decision to invite her on social media and through online petitions, the graduates took the opportunity to do so in the flesh.
As DeVos attempted to preach to all in attendance to “hear each other out,” she was met with constant heckling and the turned backs of many of the graduates who clearly didn’t approve of her presence.
The heckling chants of started from the moment DeVos reached the podium and school officials were noticeably perturbed. This feeling of frustration – and perhaps embarrassment? – was summarized when school president, Edison O. Jackson, stepped to the podium and threatened the graduates that he’d cancel the ceremony.
— Nolan D. McCaskill (@NolanDMcCaskill) May 10, 2017
“If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you,” Jackson said to the graduates only a minute into DeVos’ speech. His threat fell on many deaf ears as the protests and chants continued.
A taste of the room right now pic.twitter.com/jGn3gHuwLM
— Molly Hensley-Clancy (@mollyhc) May 10, 2017
— Mariana_Atencio (@marianaatencio) May 10, 2017
“I’m protesting because she will continue to directly affect me after this and make it harder for me to get to graduation,” Jasmine Smith, a rising junior at Bethune-Cookman told The New York Times. Smith was one of more than 100 student protestors who showed up for the ceremony.
The reception to DeVos wasn’t unilaterally negative, however. She was actually met with occasional cheers when she named successful alumna and highlighted graduates pursuing teaching careers. But these moments were in the minority.
Much of the opposition to DeVos’ appearance is due to her connection to the Trump administration, which has sent mixed signals in regards to its support for black education. However, her misspelling the name of W.E.B. DuBois and incorrectly stating why HBCU’s were even created surely didn’t help.
The students should be applauded for voicing their opinions and concerns. However, the school and its officials should be harshly criticized to being tone deaf enough to think inviting DeVos to speak would work out well and ignoring the thousands of pleas that they choose someone else. That’s the kind of decision that can result in some job rearrangement.