Ah, May! May is typically a busy month for most people. In May, we celebrate our mothers, kick off the summer holiday season, and attend countless graduations. I enjoy all three of the aforementioned events but there is something really special about watching a loved one cross the stage. Whether one is graduating from kindergarten or college, the emotions felt on that day are indescribable. Do you remember your favorite graduation ceremony? For me—my graduation from Hampton University in May 2001 comes to mind. I can still remember how eager I was to put on my cap and gown the morning of my graduation. I was so excited and proud. My time at Hampton had been wonderful. I honestly felt like I had experienced the fictional show “A Different World”. You couldn’t tell me nothin’! I shed tears with my friends and family, took a million photos, and partied like it was 1999. I mean, I partied! Those 4 years and that momentous occasion will forever be ingrained in my mind.
In my opinion, graduating from college is a huge milestone—one that should be commemorated with gifts, selfies, laughter, and tears of joy. It’s a “Momma’, I done made it” moment. Think about it. As a college graduate, you have spent the best 4 (let’s be real, for some, 5 or more) years of your life figuring out who and what you want to be, and when it finally comes to an end, it should be a time of unbridled celebration. It is your time to reflect on the mistakes you have made, friendships you have forged and lost, difficult classes you have passed, and life lessons you have learned. During the commencement ceremony, you should be commended, encouraged, and motivated as you prepare to move on to the next phase of your life. Yes, graduation day, especially one’s college graduation, can be quite the spectacle. And after all of the hard work you have put into reaching that goal, it should be—which is why I wholeheartedly stand with the students of Bethune-Cookman University and the University of Notre Dame. For some of those graduates the excitement surrounding the commencement ceremony quickly diminished once the speakers were announced. What should have been happy occasions turned into protests by some disgruntled graduates, and I only have one question for the administrations at both institutions. What did you expect?
Let’s start with Vice President Mike Pence and the University of Notre Dame’s Class of 2017. Sources say that more than a few hundred students walked out of the commencement ceremony as the vice president began to speak on May 21. Simply put, many of the graduates were not here for Mike Pence’s “words of encouragement” and I really can’t blame them.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe you should respect the opinions of others, even if their views don’t fully align with yours; however, given the controversy surrounding the current administration, the higher ups at Notre Dame probably should have gone with someone else. Ok not probably, definitely. It was not the time for a political move nor was it the time to implement a business development strategy. It was, well....per the New York Times, a Notre Dame graduate said it best.
“Of course we welcome and support free speech on campus. But commencement is not a moment for academic exchange or political dialogue. It’s a celebration of all of our hard work. I have family who are directly being affected by his policies, so I felt like I needed to stand up.” -Luis Miranda, Notre Dame graduate
Unfortunately, Notre Dame wasn’t the only institution to invite a questionable speaker to deliver the commencement address. In case you missed it, the speaker for Bethune-Cookman University’s 2017 Commencement was the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Now, theoretically, who better to speak about the importance of higher education and inspire a group of young people than the person who holds the country’s highest position in education? It’s a great idea, right? Well, it would have been had said person not likened the creation of historically black colleges and universities (hbcus) to school choice. To be petty, let me refresh your memory regarding the comments Secretary DeVos made a few months ago (she has since recanted her statement but the internet and people like me just won’t let her be great).
Per Secretary DeVos,
“Historically black colleges and universities are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and great quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”
Shockingly, Secretary DeVos was invited to speak at an hbcu when she didn’t even know why they were created in the first place.
As I stated in a previous blog, it isn’t a choice if you are not provided with any other options, but I digress. As a result of her “school choice” comments and controversial policies, Secretary DeVos received quite a few boos from several graduates, and some even turned their backs in protest.
These actions prompted the University’s President to intervene.
"If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go." -President Edison Jackson, Bethune-Cookman University
Normally I would consider this behavior completely unacceptable. Oh, but not this time. No, as a proud alum of an hbcu, I totally understood their frustration.
So what’s the take home message? Well, school administrators should take their students into consideration and be thoughtful when selecting commencement speakers. Period. After all, the commencement ceremony is about the graduates. It is their chance to be in the spotlight so let them shine! This year, the graduates of the University of Notre Dame and Bethune-Cookman University had to send their administrations a very clear and powerful message. In short, “You can just put our degrees in the mail.” And I, for one, applaud them for it.