Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, commended graduates of the University of Baltimore on Wednesday during this season’s commencement ceremony encouraging the student body to remain thoughtful, selfless, and persevere through hardships to come.
However, DeVos’ words were not received without protest from both faculty and students attending the Lyric theatre ceremony, much like the events that occurred at her previous commencement. speech at Bethune-Cookman University, Florida. Their disapproval noticed when members left their seats and turned their backs as she held her speech.
Their statement of protest began when two women seated in the front row stood with their backs turned to the stage. In response, dozens more joined in doing so raising their fists and turned to face their peers. One member of faculty showed solidarity with the protest taking part from their post on stage.
DeVos, known to be a strong critic of the public school system, has taken the spotlight in national debates regarding “school choice”, an idea that promotes families to utilize public funding in order to place their children in private schools. However, supporters of the public education system alongside Teachers’ unions stress that this allowance will take desperately needed funding out of public schools. Defending her advocacy, DeVos says it will help public education systems improve and promote competition students.
In DeVos’ remarks, she attempted to highlight the vocal opposition she receives when she remarked, “The natural instinct is to join in the chorus of conflict, to raise your voice louder, to promote your profile and ostracize others,” DeVos stated. “Too many assume that those who are the loudest are leaders and those who stay quiet are followers. But we will not solve the significant and real problems our country faces if we cannot embrace this paradox of silence”.
“We will do well to first listen, study, ponder, then speak to genuinely engage those with whom we disagree. Voices that are quiet at first, grow in strength while those who rush to shout are humbled.”
Kurt Schmoke, the University President, officially announced DeVos as this year’s commencement speaker back in September, provoking petitions from students who disagree with DeVos’ vision of public education. A petition that gained 3,000 signatures urged to withdraw the invitation as it read, “Ms. DeVos seems to go against the very core of so many of UB’s values and makes our mission statement look to be a mockery”.
In Schmoke’s response, he refused their requests and aimed to stay in line with the university’s traditions
“The university stands for freedom of speech,” Schmoke stated during an interview held in September. “My bottom line conclusion is the university stands for debate on controversial issues. I do feel that having the U.S. Secretary of Education on our campus is something that’s very important for the university, and in the long run, I believe that students will recognize that whether they agree with her position on issues or not.”
Several dozen protesters carried signs in celebration of the “power of public schools” who were met with solidarity from several professors within the crowd.
“We don’t feel the secretary of education represents the best interests of this college or the students who go to it,” stated professor Marion Winik, who did not attend in protest.
Other students such as Carlisa Bydume, have remarked that DeVos speaking at their ceremony is merely “raining on our parade”.
Another graduate, Anne Oleszczuk, age 26, felt it was important to attend the ceremony, but chose to decorate her graduation cap in protest and pointed out the popular belief that “She is coming to talk to people she marginalizes on a daily basis”.