No class: Students shout down Betsy DeVos' graduation speech

Trailed by a steady stream of jeers and protests, United States education secretary Betsy DeVos gave a commencement speech at the historically black school Bethune-Cookman University today, asking graduates to be accepting of outside views and to rise to the challenge of service within their communities.

Betsy DeVos was showered by a wave of boos on Wednesday while delivering the commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida.

The petition refers to a statement released by DeVos in February, in which she referred to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as "real pioneers when it comes to school choice". According to reports, when DeVos began her speech, many students turned their back on DeVos and boos and shouts erupted from the crowd.

The Education Secretary, who has ties to Orlando Magic ownership, was one of President Donald Trump's most controversial cabinet picks requiring a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence in the Senate to be confirmed.

Some cited what they described as a troubling approach to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) from DeVos and the Trump administration.

At one point, university President Edison Jackson interrupted DeVos to warn students, "If this behavior continues, we can mail the degrees to you".

The tone seemed to soften as DeVos continued, exhorting the students to embrace service as they enter the next phases of their lives.

The president of the NAACP said the students do not support the secretary and her values, and believes the university made the wrong choice by letting her speak.

Live video of the ceremony in Daytona Beach showed many graduates facing away from DeVos, though it was not clear how numerous approximately 300 seniors participated in the silent protest. An online petition managed to collect signatures from about 60,000 people who didn't want DeVos at Bethune-Cookman.

Jeanne Allen, of The Center for Education Reform, which advocates for charter schools, asked DeVos during the "fireside chat" portion of the event why she thought she had received so much criticism about her policies.

She failed to acknowledge that many HBCUs were created because black students could not attend white segregated schools.

Students and alumni reserved plenty of their angst for Jackson and other members of the school's leadership.

Earlier in the week, 50,000 students sent a petition urging the Daytona Beach school's administrators to rescind the education secretary's invitation to speak.

Kudos to DeVos for not backing out of the speech after the initial backlash.

  • Larry Hoffman