Education Secretary Betsy DeVos went over like a lead balloon with her commencement speech at the historically black college Bethune-Cookman University in Florida on Wednesday.
DeVos spoke at the event despite raucous protests from students who were offended by remarks the conservative Michigan billionaire made depicting historically black colleges and universities as pioneering institutions of school choice in February.
The critics who believed DeVos’ presence at the event was an empty gesture shut her speech down with loud boos, prompting university President Edison Jackson to warn students: “If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go.”
But the jeering continued as DeVos to accepted an honorary doctorate from Jackson and addressed the auditorium. Roughly half the students present turned their backs on her as she spoke.
“We are all here to applaud your perseverance and to encourage each of you to keep working to reach your full potential,” a visibly rattled DeVos told the crowd.
“And I’m here to demonstrate, in the most tangible way I know how, that I and the entire administration are fully committed to your success and to the success of every student across this great country.”
DeVos has come under fire by civil rights groups including the Black Lives Matter movement for some her positions supporting private schools, charter schools and religious education. Critics believe DeVos’ positions will harm traditional public schools and worsen school segregation, leading to worse academic outcomes for poor and minority children.
Reaction to DeVos’ speech on social media Wednesday was fierce.
“Betsy DeVos gets booed at the Bethune Cookman commencement ceremonies. That’s what you get for going over there Bets, welcome to politics,” tweeted Mark Covington of Grand Rapids.
“I don’t know what’s funnier: Bethune admins not expecting DeVos to get booed or the actual booing,” tweeted user “58% of White Voters.”
And: “Betsy DeVos should have never been asked to give a commencement speech at a HBCU when she doesn’t even respect them,” tweeted user “RespectMyGame.”
Reps for DeVos didn’t respond to a request for comment on the protests.