• Kyia Young

Students assert First Amendment rights at Pence, DeVos speeches

June 13, 2017

Graduation is one of the most celebrated events of every student’s academic career. From kindergarten to collegiate studies, achievers everywhere have a chance to embark on further scholarship or landing a stable job in their field.

In case you haven’t heard, there’s been recent controversy surrounding Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ commencement speeches at college graduations in May. Considering they are two of the more problematic individuals in the U.S., they decided to take a back seat from their political professions to acknowledge the students’ achievements.

However, the graduates weren’t having it.

On May 10, DeVos was invited to attend and speak at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university, in Daytona Beach, Florida.

During DeVos’s speech, a majority of the university’s graduates began to turn their backs to her as an act of frustration and displeasure toward her ongoing policies that include defunding many HBCU (historically black college and university) programs and much more.

DeVos was continuously booed by the students even after their degrees were threatened to be mailed to them; one person was escorted out of the auditorium.

Pence, known for his anti-immigrant and anti-same sex marriage rhetoric, was given the opportunity to speak at the University of Notre Dame’s 172nd commencement exercise on May 21 in South Bend, Indiana. While he was being introduced, a handful of Notre Dame students gradually escorted themselves out of the stadium.

Being that 85 percent of the students were Catholic, Notre Dame honors every student’s right to free speech, academic exchange and political dialogue. Parents and family members in the crowd joined in an overall applause or booing on behalf of the students’ blatant aggravation toward the vice president. The Catholic Church continues to reference the pope as the leader of the church and a guide for current beliefs and practices taught today. Pope Francis completely despises the Trump administration’s policies and procedures toward immigration, gay marriage and much more, which relates to why many Catholic graduates from Notre Dame didn’t respond well to Pence’s invitation to speak at their ceremony.

According to The New York Times, the graduation protest was planned weeks before the festivity by an on-campus group called We Stand for ND, “which posted explicit instructions for participants online (‘Remember to stay respectful’) and even provided a map of the venue that highlighted specific exits and the best route students could take to reach them.”

The lingering question now is: “Were they wrong?”

Did these students have a right to march out or turn their backs toward the individuals who have failed them within months of taking office? Were they being disrespectful to the individuals who conservatively think that being different in America shouldn’t be valued?

The students had every right to acknowledge the First Amendment and to express themselves in a way they feel was respectful and diligent enough not to cause any harm to DeVos or Pence. I believe that each student should’ve had the opportunity to choose the individuals who provided the commencement speech on their big day.

What do you think?


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