Condoleezza Rice Is Latest Commencement Speaker to Face Backlash
Rice announced she will not speak at Rutgers University graduation.
May 3, 2014 — -- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backing out of a planned commencement speech at Rutgers University in the face of protest this week is not the first example of commencement-related controversy.
Just last month, first lady Michelle Obama was pushed to move the date of her speech for the Topeka, Kansas, Public School District. The first lady had planned to speak at graduation but a petition was started by parents and students who were worried Obama's appearance would limit the number of tickets for family members.
After 2,500 students and parents signed the petition, Obama decided instead to speak at "Senior Recognition Day."
In addition to Obama and Rice, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also faced hurdles during the graduation season.
Christie had a contentious interaction with students from Rowan University, where he was scheduled to give a commencement address in May. After it was announced Christie was going to speak at graduation, several students heckled the governor at a town hall meeting and were ejected from the meeting. Students were complaining about how handled superstorm Sandy relief funding and the George Washington Bridge scandal.
In spite of the protests, the governor was still scheduled to speak at the school.
Graduation speakers have stirred dissent among faculty and students many times before, as well.
In 2009, TV personality Ben Stein withdrew from delivering the commencement address at the University of Vermont because of complaints over his views on intelligent design.
That same year, James Franco dropped out of delivering the commencement address for UCLA after a Facebook protest against the actor. Franco cited scheduling conflicts for cancelling.
According to the New York Times, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick withdrew from a speaking at Swarthmore College in 2013 after students complained that he was an "architect of the Iraq war."
In Rice's case, students at Rutgers had staged a sit-in to protest the decision by the university to invite her to be the commencement speaker and pay her a speaker fee of $35,000. Faculty and students wanted Rice's invitation rescinded because of her involvement in the Iraq war.
Rice said she was declining to speak in order to preserve a positive spirit at the event, according to the Associated Press.
"Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families," Rice said. "Rutgers' invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.