Graduating seniors at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida turned their backs in protest of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the start of her commencement speech on Wednesday at the historically black institution.
Graduating students at the Florida university expressed their disapproval by booing and turning their backs as DeVos spoke, making images and videos of those intense moments go viral on social media. But many attendees Wednesday had already made up their minds about DeVos, whose appearance was condemned by the Florida chapter of the NAACP "based on her awful public education record impacting blacks and minorities in Florida and around the country", as Politico reported.
As the lightning-rod secretary of education stepped behind the lectern, she was greeted with immediate boos from the students - a deepening roar that had begun in smatters minutes earlier when she received her honorary doctorate from school President Edison O. Jackson. In announcing DeVos as commencement speaker last week, the school compared her to its founder, civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, saying that DeVos's "mission to empower parents and students resonates with the history and legacy of Dr. Bethune".
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President Donald Trump's nomination of DeVos, a Republican fundraiser with no classroom experience, was so controversial that Vice President Mike Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote for her Senate confirmation.
But given her reception at the commencement address on Wednesday, DeVos may have a lot more work ahead of her to make amends. "If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you". At times hecklers drowned out her remarks, CNN reported. And so her tone-deaf statement, while ostensibly celebrating HCBUs, suggested, at best, an insensitivity to issues of racial inequality in education.
But the university said students are free to protest as long as it doesn't disrupt the graduation ceremony. "Their success has shown that more options help students flourish", DeVos said.
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Reps for DeVos didn't respond to a request for comment on the protests.
A university official, who asked not to be named because he didn't want to steal the spotlight from the university's president, said 6,000 of the petitions were properly filled out, and of those, the majority came from outside the campus and Daytona Beach.
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