Graduates at Florida university turn backs in protest of DeVos speech

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Students at Bethune-Cookman University booed, cat-called and turned their backs on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos while she delivered a commencement speech to graduates at the Florida school.

She barely got the first sentence out at Wednesday's Bethune-Cookman University ceremony before students began loudly jeering her in an apparent attempt to drown out her message. 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 to African-Americans. Instead, it angered graduates who felt DeVos was receiving accolades that she did not deserve.

DeVos, in her keynote address, praised the school's founder, educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, as someone who "refused to accept systematic and repulsive racism".

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"I am here to demonstrate in the most direct way possible that I and the administration are fully committed to your success and to the success of every student across this great country", she said. Most the students believe that her speech was made for political reasons and not because she had the universities best interests at heart, reports Al Jazeera.

The situation got so bad that Edison O. Jackson, the president of the Bethune-Cookman University, interrupted DeVos' speech to ask the graduating class and their guests return to their seats and remain quiet.

President Donald Trump's nomination of DeVos, a Republican fundraiser with no classroom experience, was so controversial that Vice President Mike Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote for her Senate confirmation.

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DeVos has continued since then to cite historically black colleges as alternative options for quality education, her stated goal for promoting the use of tax money for private schools.

"We are all about the business of making new friends", Jackson said at a pre-commencement news conference. DeVos' statement, he said, "just shows she is out of touch". The petition demanded that DeVos be replaced as the commencement speaker. Dozens of activists lined a sidewalk early Wednesday; their signs included "DeVos is not worthy".

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