Republican Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin delivered a commencement address at George Mason University in which some students protested his appearance after failed attempts before the event to replace him as speaker.
When Youngkin took to the podium to deliver his speech to the university’s graduating class on Thursday, the students gave the governor a loud round of applause, although boos could also be heard.
Most students did not stage a public protest against Youngkin, but those who turned their backs on the governor, held up signs reading “Mason demands action” or dropped out of the speech.
“I think it’s very empowering,” Jason Motley, a grad student who graduated, told WUSA9. “I think whoever he is, his political views just don’t align with the betterment of this university.”
GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY STUDENTS LAUNCH PETITION AGAINST WELCOMING YOUNGKIN AS FIRST SPEAKER
The protest comes after students in March tried to pressure George Mason president Greg Washington to bar Youngkin from attending the opening ceremony. A petition has been started asking that he not be asked about his administration’s policies on transgender issues and the controversial school curriculum. The petition collected 8,000 signatures.
“His beliefs don’t align with the university and a lot of beliefs in this institution,” student Dunni Oni told the outlet. “My big thing is making sure Mason’s students as a whole feel safe, heard, and protected, and he doesn’t guarantee that.”
The Youngkin administration’s proposals include banning transgender students from using restrooms or participating in sports teams that don’t match their biological sex and banning critical race theory and sexually explicit books in the schools.
The university’s student government and a few other student groups had issued statements opposing Youngkin as the keynote speaker. A demonstration of about 100 students took place demanding that the governor be replaced as speaker.
GEORGE MASON’S STUDENTS PROTEST DECISION TO HOST YOUNGKIN AS COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER
Still, Washington supported the university’s decision to host Youngkin at EagleBank Arena on May 18.
“As president of our state’s largest and most diverse public university, I support students who raise their voices, and I applaud their courage and commitment to standing up for themselves and their communities,” Washington said in a March 27 statement. “That being said, I don’t believe we should silence the voices of those with whom we disagree, especially in this forum where there is no imminent threat present as a result of disagreements.”
George Mason presented nearly 11,000 diplomas and certificates on Thursday. The Class of 2023 has been described as the largest and most diverse in the Commonwealth.
University College Republican Joe Szymanski, who walked across the stage on Thursday, said the group of protesters was small and did not represent the entire promotion.
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“It wasn’t very big, and I think most of our college, as I expected, was there and sat and listened to the governor’s speech,” he told WUSA9. . “We have a lot of people screaming and shouting and getting the most attention, but that’s not usually how people operate and that’s not how our society operates.”
Youngkin became the last sitting Governor of Virginia to deliver a keynote address to George Mason, joining former Governors Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe.
“The governor celebrated the largest class of graduates in the history of George Mason University, their stories and the diversity of thought in the Commonwealth,” a spokesperson for Youngkin’s office told WUSA9. “The Governor will continue to deliver for Virginia, preserve and protect free speech, and praise the many accomplishments of GMU graduates.”
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