Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was met Monday by several dozen students and at least one faculty member who stood and turned their backs to her during her fall commencement speech at the University of Baltimore.
No stranger to graduation hecklers, Mrs. DeVos received boos as well as applause as she took to the podium, but she was able to deliver her remarks without interruption during the silent demonstration.
“You are each unique — truly one of a kind,” said Mrs. DeVos. “And if that is the case, then we must admit that a one-size-fits-all approach to education — at any stage — will not work. We must stop suggesting there is only one, conventional path to success.”
Some family members and friends in the audience also stood and turned their backs to Mrs. DeVos, a longtime supporter of school choice, as shown on video by Baltimore Beat.
At one point, Mrs. DeVos inadvertently drew laughter by saying that a secret to success is not to “turn your back on a commitment.”
About 50 protesters, including some professors, gathered outside before her fall graduation speech, at one point chanting, “Betsy DeVos is not for me! ABCDEFG,” as shown on a CBS Baltimore video posted online.
Some wore buttons saying, “Support & Defend Public Schools,” an apparent reference to Mrs. DeVos’ championing of programs such as charter schools and vouchers.
University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke’s decision in September to invite Mrs. DeVos prompted opposition and a petition calling for rescinding the invitation, but Mr. Schmoke, a former Baltimore mayor, described her appearance as an honor for the public university.
“There are over 1,400 universities in this country, and the Department of Education is involved in the lives of those universities and the schools of our cities, towns and states around the country, and it’s amazing and I think quite an honor to have the person whose policy recommendations will have such an impact on not only education but the quality of life of many of us,” said Mr. Schmoke.
About 230 undergraduates and 130 graduate students received their degrees during the ceremony at the Modell Performing Arts Center’s Lyric theater.
Mrs. DeVos received a more hostile reception in May at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, where she was drowned out at one point by jeers.