DAYTONA BEACH — Wednesday’s commencement ceremony at historically black Bethune-Cookman University featured—oddly—not just one but two speakers from the administration of President Donald Trump.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and reality TV star and Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault were both slated to speak at the event, and both were subjected to a resounding chorus of boos from the student body when they took the podium.
DeVos, in addition to addressing the crowd, was there to receive an honorary doctorate from university president Edison Jackson. She was booed and pointedly snubbed, with many of the graduating students turning their back on her for her remarks.
DeVos, in game fashion (and with all the charm and grace for which the Trump administration is swiftly becoming known), proceeded to argue with the students and inform them that they should try to learn from her.
“I am at the table fighting on your behalf,” the cabinet member insisted, though she was quickly shouted down by the angry attendees.
It’s probably fair to say that DeVos was doomed from the outset; students were already enraged at the mere announcement of her presence at commencement, and copious protest petitions had been circulated around the campus, receiving thousands of signatures.
Many called for Jackson’s resignation simply for booking DeVos in the first place.
DeVos’s stated views on education and her association with Trump—a polarizing figure to say the least—probably didn’t do her any favors with the graduates, but controversial statements she had made in the past referring to historically black colleges as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice” made the Secretary a uniquely bad choice to address a group in this setting.
Far from being pioneers, of course, historically black colleges were created simply because African-American students had no other options in the existing educational system; segregation prevented them from attending the other universities of the time.
The appropriateness of DeVos’s background and experience for her position were hotly debated in Congress, with left-leaning lawmakers contending she was not knowledgeable about the system she had been chosen to oversee. Occurrences like the “pioneers” comment certainly suggest that DeVos’s detractors may have had a point.
By comparison, the normally acrimonious Omarosa seemed mild and harmless enough as an “opening act” for DeVos, but anticipation of the Secretary’s remarks left the students in no mood to tolerate another Trump appointee.
University president Jackson leapt to Omarosa’s defense as she was booed by students.
“You don’t know her,” he shot back. “You don’t know her story.”
This despite the fact that Omarosa spent the better part of a decade parading her real life before cameras as entertainment to the public, and—presumably—many of the students at the commencement spent their formative years watching her drama unfold in their living rooms.
It was a rough day for the Trump camp. The unwelcoming reception for DeVos and Omarosa came even as the scandal of Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey blew up in his face, with subsequent leaks calling into account the president’s motives and with Comey—now in his capacity as a private citizen—invited to testify before the Senate.
With luck, any proceedings taking place in the Senate will be absent the sort of booing seen at Bethune-Cookman.