Bethune-Cookman University is a small, private, historically black university located in Daytona Beach, Florida. The university president, Edison O. Jackson, invited Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to give the commencement address at yesterday’s graduation ceremony. It was not a popular decision with the student body.
A roar of protest ensued.
Whatever Kind of Misguided Motivation…?
Now I am no fan of Betsy DeVos. And I applaud the student protesters. At the same time, my focus is captured by the question: Given the blundering “alternative” statements DeVos has made about black higher education, why in the world would President Jackson invite Betsy DeVos to present the 2017 commencement speech at his school???
Surely there were multitudes of more worthy, more inspiring, and more appropriate candidates who were available to address the graduating class of 2017. Not only did the DeVos choice stir students to righteous wrath, it put her in a humiliating situation.
From the other side, I understand why DeVos accepted the gig. She needs to clean up her PR with black educational institutions. Hey… maybe she offered to give the commencement speech. And maybe President Jackson expects a favor in return — for the students, naturally. (Out of sheer wonderment, I merely speculate.)
We may never know exactly how the DeVos commencement speech came about, but President Jackson did make an official statement at the beginning of May:
“One of the lasting hallmarks of higher education is its willingness to engage, explore, and experience that which we deem as ‘other’… When we seek to shelter our students and campus communities from views that are diametrically opposed to their own, we actually leave our students far less capable of combating those ideas… We cannot, and we will not, ever accomplish this if we continue to exist in ideological, social, and racial silos.” ~ Edison O. Jackson, Bethune-Cookman University
You have to admit, Jackson’s words sound pretty good. But why wait to the last day of school to create such a rich learning experience?
DeVos Commencement Speech Competes with Reality TV
Below, the Daytona Beach News Journal captures the commencement fracas on video. When DeVos reached the podium, vigorous booing immediately sounded. Students stood and turned their backs on her. Two and a half minutes in, a school representative tried to interrupt the booing with loud prayer over the audio system. DeVos could no longer be heard. Soon, students were bellowing support to fellow-protesters being dragged from the auditorium by security officers.
Four minutes in, DeVos resumes speaking. She is again drowned out by loud booing. Throughout the nearly ten-minute video, DeVos strains to speak over a continuous dull roar coming from the audience.
The video is painful to watch. At the same time, it is riveting how the student body expressed strong disrespect and disgust with a seething, yet self-controlled, nonviolent protest. Simply put, the DeVos commencement address rivals the most degrading Reality TV.
If you’d like to hear what DeVos actually said to Bethune-Cookman graduates, the FOX 10 video of the event (below) effectively mutes the booing and provides clear audio of her words. You also get to see President Jackson go to her aid, standing at her side while threatening the students in order to quiet them down.
Despite all the fracas, DeVos was able to finish her prepared speech. What a trooper! If only her public education philosophy wasn’t backwards, upside-down, and inside-out. If only she knew the history of racial segregation and comprehended the gnarly deep roots that feed present-day American racism.
Vive La Résistance!