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Bethune-Cookman and Notre Dame’s Common Denominator

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Bethune-Cookman University (BCU) and the University of Notre Dame held their graduations within the last two weeks.

Both had graduation speakers that were seen by many as unpopular choices. And both had large numbers of its graduates either walk out of the commencement exercises or turn their backs to the speakers.

Is that any way for the future leaders of tomorrow to behave? What went wrong? I believe a lot went wrong.

First, in my opinion, both universities made the wrong choices in speakers.

At BCU in Daytona Beach, Florida, someone or a group of people chose the U.S. Secretary of Education. Now if you have been out of touch recently, maybe stranded on an island without the internet, you are probably thinking that the secretary of education is a good choice.

You are thinking in a reasoned way which is to say you think the secretary of education has impeccable credentials and significant experiences in education. Well, I am glad you are off the island so let me give you some real talk.

Betsy DeVos is the secretary of education and is unqualified to hold the position. She has not taught in a school a day in her life. Her Senate confirmation hearing was a hot mess. She became secretary of education by the thinnest of margins. How thin you ask? How about one vote and that vote was cast by Vice President Mike Pence. More about him later.

DeVos is a staunch supporter of charter schools during a period when public education is suffering and urban schools are in trouble. You have someone like DeVos who knows nothing about the issues they face and who attends them. I would opine that she has probably not had an earnest conversation with a parent of a child who attends an urban school. Why? Because DeVos lives in a world where companies bid to take over schools, principals make big salaries and teachers barely make a living wage.

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Many suggest today that charter schools exist for a few people to get rich and for children to be left behind. Too many urban areas are being taken over by charter schools. Some of these schools don’t use textbooks. How can a child go to school every day and not have textbooks?

So, you really cannot blame students at BCU if they did not want to listen to DeVos. What message of hope could she possibly give graduates, many of whom are the first to graduate from college in their family. Betsy DeVos couldn’t provide a blueprint for education in this country because she doesn’t have one.

What I am interested in knowing is who was sitting at the table when the name Betsy DeVos came up? Did someone mention the name Betsy DeVos as a graduation speaker? C’mon man!

Were students involved in the process? How about the student body president? I would say no to both questions.

I think what happened was that Bethune-Cookman University, founded by Mary McLeod Bethune, was cajoled into having DeVos as the speaker and BCU officials offered no pushback.

The entire DeVos invitation was secretive and clandestine. Were financial promises made? That’s a good question. A colleague of mine said some money is not worth having. Do you sell the University’s soul for a few pieces of silver? On the Andy Griffith classic television show, Gomer would sometimes say to Andy, “Ill-gotten gains, Andy.” Well, Bethune Cookman University, ill-gotten gains!

How did the University of Notre Dame end up with Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States of America as its graduation speaker? He is the mouthpiece for one of the most controversial presidents in our history. How could the Catholic Church allow this to happen? Did you think you could just sneak Pence up to South Bend Indiana and nobody would know?

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Well, the students knew and they left their own graduation. It was a sad day in South Bend. Pence wants to put a band aid on everything President Trump says. The problem that we are seeing with him and the rest of the entitled administration is that they are running out of bandages.

Graduations should be happy times filled with a great sense of accomplishment. They weren’t at Bethune-Cookman University and the University of Notre Dame.

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr., served as a vice president and admissions director at several colleges and universities before retiring in 2012. A motivational speaker and workshop leader, he is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.

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