When she took the stage to deliver Bethune-Cookman University's commencement address Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was greeted by the backs of about half of this year's graduates.
Her appearance at the historically black college in Daytona Beach, founded by civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, was controversial as soon as it was announced. Several students spoke out against her planned attendance and signed petitions urging the school to disinvite DeVos; her appearance was part of an effort by the Trump administration to forge connections with historically black colleges, and many students said they felt the move was disingenuous, especially after Trump last week suggested that a federal financial assistance program that benefits historically black colleges and universities could be unconstitutional (he later said he has "unwavering support" for the colleges and universities).
The booing began when the university's president introduced Trump adviser and former Apprentice star Omarosa Manigault, and ramped up when DeVos began to speak. Half of the 380 graduates turned their backs to DeVos, The Washington Post reports, and she was jeered when she said she planned on visiting the home and gravesite of Bethune, with some students shouting, "No!" She told the audience that it's important for people to listen to viewpoints that differ from their own, and said she is "at the table, fighting on your behalf." "She doesn't know anything about us, and she has the nerve to come down here and speak to us," graduate Donjele Simpson told the Post. "And then she has the nerve to speak about Mary McLeod Bethune's legacy. What does she know about that?" Catherine Garcia