On Wednesday, DeVos pressed on with her speech, despite the boos.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you, and particularly with those who have disagreed with the invitation for me to be here,” DeVos said. “One of the hallmarks of higher education, and of democracy, is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree.”
“And while we will undoubtedly disagree at times, I hope we can do so respectfully,” she said. “Let’s choose to hear each other out.”
Faculty stood in solidarity behind DeVos as she spoke, and Jackson stood with arms folded and eyebrows furrowed while audience members booed and graduates stood with their backs turned.
The jeers subsided as she spoke to graduates on the importance of following in the footsteps of founder Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator, civil rights activist, founder of the National Council of Negro Women and an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Hadiya Bomani, a graduate and member of Delta Sigma Theta who turned her back to DeVos, said the issue is deeper than the commencement speech.
“It’s more so the university that we have an issue with at the fact that they brought her to our celebration,” Bomani said. “It wasn’t time for them to make a political decision on our behalf, it was a time to celebrate us.”
However, the boos started up again when DeVos said she would visit Bethune’s grave and “pay her respects.”
Bethune is buried on campus. Her home is also located on campus, which has been designated a national landmark.
While school staff read a list of DeVos’ accolades and accomplishments during the presentation of an honorary doctorate, she was once again booed, and an audience member shouted, “You’re not a Wildcat” — the school’s mascot.
In a statement later, DeVos said: “One of the hallmarks of higher education, and of democracy, is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree. I have respect for all those who attended, including those who demonstrated their disagreement with me.”
DeVos started the day with students and school officials in a closed roundtable discussion. She was greeted with protests from students and alumni outside the graduation arena.
Scott Johnson held a sign that read “DeVo$ is not a role model.”
“This commencement speaker is an insult to this community,” he said. “This commencement speaker represents everything that is not Bethune-Cookman and has no place here.”
Alumna Cris LaNiese said that DeVos doesn’t understand her school’s principles and that allowing her to speak at graduation is “a slap in the face.”