Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivered a commencement address at George Mason University, in which some students protested his appearance after failed attempts to replace him as a speaker ahead of the event.
When Youngkin walked to the podium to deliver his speech before the university’s senior year on Thursday, the students mostly applauded the governor, though there were boos.
Most students did not stage a public demonstration against Youngkin, but those who turned their backs on the governor raised signs reading “Mason Demands Action” or walked out of the speech.
“I think it feels very encouraging,” Jason Motley, a graduate student who dropped out of school, told WUSA9. “I think whatever he is, his political views are just not in line with the betterment of this university.”
GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY STUDENTS START PETITION AGAINST YOUNGKIN’S INCLUSION AS OPENING NOTES
The demonstration came after students tried in March to pressure George Mason President Greg Washington to ban Youngkin from attending the opening ceremony. A petition was started demanding that he not be invited because of his government’s policies on transgender issues and controversial curricula. The petition received 8,000 signatures.
“His beliefs are not consistent with the university and many of the beliefs of this institution,” student Dunni Oni told the outlet. “My number one concern is to make sure the overall Mason students feel safe, heard, and protected, and he doesn’t make sure of that.”
The Youngkin government’s proposals included that transgender students should be banned from using restrooms or participating in athletic teams who do not match their biological sex, and that critical racial theories and sexually explicit books be banned in schools.
The university student council and some other student groups had released statements rejecting Youngkin as the opening speaker. About 100 students protested and demanded that the governor be replaced as speaker.
GEORGE MASON STUDENTS protest decision to host Youngkin as opening speaker
Nonetheless, Washington stood by the university’s decision to host Youngkin on May 18 at EagleBank Arena.
“As President of our state’s largest and most diverse public university, I support those students who are making their voices heard, and I applaud their courage and dedication to standing up for themselves and their communities,” Washington said in a statement March 27 “Yet I don’t think we should silence the voices of those with whom we disagree, especially in this forum where there is no immediate threat because of the disagreements.”
George Mason presented nearly 11,000 diplomas and certificates on Thursday. The 2023 vintage has been described as the largest and most diverse in the entire Commonwealth.
Joe Szymanski of the university’s College Republicans, who took the stage on Thursday, said the group of protesters was small and did not represent the entire grad class.
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“It wasn’t very big, and I think most of our universities, as I expected, were there and sat and listened to the governor’s speech,” he told WUSA9. “We have a lot of people screaming and screaming, and that gets the most attention, but that’s not how people work in general and that’s not how our society works either.”
Youngkin became the last acting governor of Virginia to deliver an opening address at the George Mason, joining former Governors Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe.
“The governor celebrated the largest graduating class in the history of George Mason University, its stories and the diversity of thought in the Commonwealth,” a spokesman for Youngkin’s office told WUSA9. “The governor will continue to stand up for Virginia, uphold and protect free speech, and commend the many achievements of GMU graduates.”
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