Despite Protest, DeVos To Deliver Commencement Speech

Posted May 11, 2017

Protesters from The Dream Defenders, a Florida youth organization working to better the lives of black communities, said DeVos will actually make it harder for Bethune-Cookman graduates to pay back their student loans after she halted an Obama-era program to help students manage federal college loans.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks to the crowd at the ASU + GSV Summit at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Beyond that, a Change.org petition was also started in an attempt to stop her from delivering the commencement address.

Students stood and turned their backs to DeVos, an action that Politico reported drew applause from the crowd of friends and relatives.

DeVos struck a conciliatory note several times in her speech Wednesday, telling students that the administration supports restoring year-round Pell grants and acknowledging the controversy surrounding her appearance.

NAACP said multiple allegations surfaced that the school was threatening to terminate faculty and withhold student degrees. Shortly after she began her speech, she was welcomed with an arousing disapproval from those in the audience.

DeVos is Wednesday's commencement speaker, despite protests and online petitions against her visit that have collected more than 50,000 signatures.

"She doesn't know what going through the public education system means and what it can do to a student".

One recent BCU graduate even went so far as to start an online petition to have the speaker changed that received nearly 10,000 signatures. He and DeVos later walked back that statement, saying HBCUs had their "unwavering" support.

Both students and alumni had expressed discontent with the invitation extended to DeVos for a variety of reasons, mainly including her mischaracterization of HBCUs as "pioneers of school choice", for she later apologized. The NAACP Florida State Conference has urged the university president and board chairman to step down. But she was quickly criticized, as many of these educational institutions were founded during the Jim Crow Era-a time when most universities across the US only catered to whites.

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.

Some critics have pointed to the notion that Ms. DeVos will steal attention away from the graduates who should be celebrated at commencement, while others have cited the very public missteps on the part of the Trump administration on HBCUs. "Before giving a message, I think you need to hear the message and hear what HBCUs are about and the issues that affect us".

But those schools were founded out of necessity; they were the only choice for students of color before integration.