Former anti-war activist Tom Hayden was named honorary Teacher of the Year during a surprise appearance at San Jose City College Friday, despite threats that local Vietnamese groups would disrupt the speech Hayden had been scheduled to make.
Hayden, who has never been a teacher, received the award from the man who was supposed to receive it, social science instructor Jack Burrows.
Burrows had declined the award because of the college's decision to cancel Hayden's speech. When Hayden, now a Democratic assemblyman from Santa Monica, took the stage to thank the college faculty and students, he received a loud ovation from many, but was also hooted in both English and Vietnamese by people who opposed his appearance.
Hayden's appearance at the commencement exercises was kept a secret in an effort to keep the ceremony at San Jose Civic Auditorium peaceful.
Hayden and San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery held a news conference Friday afternoon in which they praised the right of free speech and explained why Hayden would not speak at the graduation. They made no mention of his receiving an award.
On Wednesday, college President Byron Skinner decided to withdraw Hayden's invitation to speak after local Vietnamese groups protested the speech and said they would stage a demonstration that might turn violent. "I would like to add, however, that I am outraged at the threat to disrupt a college from exercising the principle of free speech," Skinner said at that time.
Hayden and his actress wife Jane Fonda have been criticized by veterans organizations and Vietnamese refugees for the trip they made during the war to North Vietnam.
About 40% of the almost 200 students who showed up Friday night to get their diplomas were Vietnamese.