Amid boos and applause, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos implored students not to "join in the chorus of conflict," even as dozens turned their backs in protest of her commencement appearance at the University of Baltimore's graduation ceremony. Graduate student Kerrin Smith, 26, said DeVos and Donald Trump have overseen a "strangling of public education." DeVos, who has spent decades promoting the use of vouchers and other methods to redirect public money into private schools, shared a few anecdotes about the graduates she had met, including several first-generation college students. "You are a source of inspiration. You are the reason we are working to rethink how our country approaches education," DeVos said.
William Pierre, who earned a bachelor of science degree on Monday, said students were "very puzzled" by the September decision by University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke, a former city mayor, to honor DeVos as speaker, the AP reports. Before the ceremony, several dozen demonstrators protested across the street, among them faculty, LGBT activists, and a few students. Some carried signs with slogans such as "democracy needs public schools." Associate Professor Debbie Kohl, who has tenure and was one of the few protesting faculty members who agreed to give their name to a reporter, said many of her colleagues believe DeVos "represents policies and standpoints that are antithetical to the job we do here for our students."