Education Secretary Betsy DeVos thought she could show up at Bethune-Cookman University's graduation and give a half-hearted speech about the value of education. Numerous graduates stood and turned their backs to DeVos as she spoke - about half of the almost 400 people receiving degrees this term, according to reports from the scene. The graduates also booed in regards to a statement DeVos made during her speech, in which she said she would be visiting the grave site of Mary McLeod Bethune later in the day to pay her respects.
Students and alumni began voicing their displeasure as soon as DeVos was announced as the Daytona Beach, Florida, school's commencement speaker, on May 1.
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.
Jackson, Bethune-Cookman's president, had been accused of selling out the school by offering DeVos an honorary doctoral degree and inviting her to address the student body.
"We couldn't disagree more", Gilmer said.
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DeVos said over loud boos, "We can choose to listen, be respectful and continue to learn from each other's experience". "Choose which way you want to go", he added before stepping back to let the graduates work it out.
Historically black colleges - known as HBCUs - were founded because segregation prevented African-American students from receiving an education anywhere else. Students have been protesting en masse and B-CU graduate Dominik Whitehead even started a Change.org petition to prevent DeVos from attending.
"For someone to come and speak at my commencement that can not relate to me or know what I have been through is kind of like a slap in the face", graduating student Jasmine Johnson told the Washington Post.
Adora Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the country's oldest civil right organization, called for Jackson's resignation as well as that of the chairman of the board, Joe Petrock.
In February, President Trump met with leaders from America's historically black colleges and universities when he signed an executive order to move assistance for the institutions from the Department of Education to the White House. "She understood, however, the great value of education, and she understood the nuances of how to balance delicate and hard relationships in order to achieve her ultimate goal of building an institution of higher learning, of which we are the beneficiaries today".