Respectfully, you owe your student body, especially those who graduated, a heartfelt apology and renewed commitment to respecting student’s voice.
When the news that US Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, was invited to deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of Bethune-Cookman University, the decision was met with fierce opposition and disdain. Founded by beloved education champion, Mary McCleod Bethune, BCU stands firm on a rich foundation and traditions of educational excellence for all, especially those who have been marginalized and denied access elsewhere.
Betsy Devos has spent her career profiting from and contributing to the decline of public schools in inner-cities. Recently, she falsely opined on the origins of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, saying their roots were born out of the need for choice. So, inviting her to speak at one of most beloved HBCU’s seems fair, right? Wrong! Students in attendance booed and turned their backs on the Education Secretary as she approached the podium to speak.
Notre Dame tapped Vice-President Mike Pence as their commencement speaker. Dozens of students turned their backs or walked out as Vice-President Pence began his remarks. Vice-President Pence’s presence at the Notre Dame commencement was as the representative of an administration that has promoted divisive rhetoric and policy. This rhetoric and policy is the antithesis of what much of the student body and the graduating class believes.
While some praised students at Notre Dame and Bethune-Cookman for voicing their opposition, there are those who labeled them as typical whiny and entitled millennials. In my opinion, millennials too often are told they are entitled, spoiled, lazy and hypocritically support freedom of thought and speech only when it suits their point of view and does not hurt their feelings.
As a millennial, I find this offensive as I believe that not all opinions, schools of thought and beliefs are welcomed, especially when such is rooted in the oppression, intentional disenfranchisement and or marginalization of any group of people. Such speech is also not welcome on occasions where we are being honored and celebrated after, at least, four years of hard work and toil to obtain a degree and acquire student loan debt.
When universities reach out to potential commencement speakers, they should do so with their student body in mind. It’s their moment, and the accolades or titles of the invited speakers should carry less weight than their words or presence would inspire and galvanize the educators, families, and graduates in attendance.