United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos should not give a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University because:
First of all, a graduation should not be a political event. Rather, it should be a time to celebrate the successes of the graduates. The focus should not be on the speaker but on the graduating students.
Second, it is a misuse of opportunity for the university. This is an opportunity for the school to create goodwill among their future alumni—who they hope will support them. Instead, the university has chosen to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many of their graduating seniors.
And third, one of the best graduation speeches I have ever read was given by Steve Jobs and covered loss, love, and life itself. I have read it so many times. Graduation is the opportunity to visit future potentials, pitfalls, and opportunities—i.e., losses, loves, and life. Most probably, the topic of DeVos’s speech will not be admonitions or guidelines for life.
DeVos should speak because:
The first reason is that the future of America is going to be very dependent upon the successful education of culturally and linguistically marginalized students. To speak with an audience who has successfully met this challenge is a reminder to all about how far we have come and how far we have to go. Although there is much controversy about Devos’s solutions in education, Devos herself has devoted much of her life to pushing the conversation about those who are not getting as well educated in some of our public schools. But she should also remember that Stanford found 83% of charter schools do not outperform public schools, so they are not always a better option.
The second reason is about having a future story. I recently was at a community college to speak, and there was a young man at lunch sitting by himself. I asked if I could sit by him to eat my lunch. While we were sitting there, I asked him why he was in college. He told me he did not have a clue why he was there!
He said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know what career to take. Everybody tells me I need to have college so that I can get a job.”
I said, “No, the reason you go to college is to manage your life. You’re going to have at least 10 career changes in your life. College is about being flexible in handling ideas and managing choices so that you can manage your life.” I told him that he has a choice in life: He can either write his own story, or someone else can write it for him. But either way he will have a story.
He said to me, “I guarantee you that 95% of the students have no idea that’s why they’re here.”
What DeVos brings to these graduating students is a set of ideas that they must sort through and figure out where they are on the issues. This is a lifelong skill.
The third reason is that the controversy gives the college incredible name recognition, which allows them to recruit more students. By stirring up this controversy, DeVos is actually helping ensure the future success of the institution.
No matter how you feel about Betsy DeVos, the fact is her decisions matter. Unless the executive winds change and she goes out suddenly like James Comey, DeVos will create policies that affect education in this country for years to come.