Boos and jeers
could be heard as DeVos, who drew ire in February when she said
historically black colleges were "pioneers" of educational
choice, was introduced. Faculty and school administrators on
stage stood and applauded.
Live video of the ceremony in Daytona Beach showed many
graduates facing away from DeVos, though it was not clear how
many of the approximately 300 seniors participated in the silent
"One of the hallmarks of higher education and of democracy is
the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we
disagree," DeVos told the graduates.
The university's president, Edison Jackson, interrupted her
speech with a warning to students. "If this behavior continues,
your degrees will be mailed to you," he said. "Choose which way
you want to go."
Ahead of the speech, students, alumni and political activists
sought to have DeVos' invitation rescinded, saying they were
offended by her earlier comment. DeVos, who is a proponent of
school choice - including charter schools and school vouchers -
later clarified her remark, noting that historically black
colleges were created because other institutions were not open
About 60,000 signatures on two petitions were delivered to
school officials on Tuesday objecting to her appearance at the
“Right now is not the time for Secretary DeVos to speak at any
historically black college," said Dominik Whitehead, a
Bethune-Cookman alumnus who led one of the petition drives.
DeVos' statement, he said, "just shows she is out of touch.”
In a statement on Sunday, President Donald Trump said DeVos
chose Bethune-Cookman for her first commencement address as
education secretary to show the Republican administration's
dedication to the mission of historically black colleges and
Jackson, an African-American and a Republican, and some others
defended the choice of DeVos as the graduation speaker for the
school, which was named for black educator and civil rights
activist Mary McLeod Bethune.
Sean P. Jackson, chairman of the Black Republican Caucus of
Florida, said DeVos had long been a champion of providing strong
education opportunities for minority students.
"The secretary says we should allow charter schools to come in
and educate children if they are doing a better job than the
public schools," Jackson said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and
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