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Betsy DeVosHigher Education

Bethune-Cookman students turn their backs on Betsy DeVos during her commencement speech

The contents of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' commencement speech Wednesday at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, Fla., was pretty standard: Listen to people who disagree with you, serve your country, and give back.

But the reception was raucous. Students booed and turned their backs while President Trump's Education chief spoke.

DeVos delivered her speech even after students used social media and online petitions to try to prevent her appearance.

Since her confirmation, DeVos has sought out historically black colleges and universities. Such outreach efforts by the White House, which included an infamous photo op, were meaningless, some have complained.

Early on, DeVos made a seemingly tone-deaf assertion about HBCUs, suggesting that they were successful examples of school choice. In reality, they were born out of segregation and inequitable access to education. 

The boos made it hard for DeVos to get her words out. 

According to the Washington Post, half of the Bethune-Cookman graduates turned their backs on her.

In her speech, DeVos acknowledged the history of HBCUs, and devoted significant time to the story of Bethune's founder. The school's president defended her.

DeVos' final piece of advice, "a call to grace," included a quote from the New Testament. You can read her full speech here.

Education historian Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's graduate school of education, said the protests didn't help the students get their points of view across. 

“This is a Trumpian reply to Trump's Secretary of Education," he said in a statement. "As president, he has flouted norms of civic exchange and democracy at every turn. Now his enemies are imitating him."

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