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Bethune-Cookman grads boo Betsy DeVos at commencement

(CNN) Daytona Beach, Florida (CNN)Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced an auditorium of jeering graduates at historically black Bethune-Cookman University as she gave a commencement address Wednesday that students and alumni say she was in no place to deliver. As she opened her remarks, some students stood and turned their backs to her. At times hecklers drowned out her remarks. Perhaps foreseeing the resistance she'd face during her speech, DeVos told the crowd, "While we will undoubtedly disagree at times, I hope we can do so respectfully. Let's choose to hear one another out. I want to reaffirm this administration's commitment to and support for (historically black colleges and universities) and the students they serve."

Some students had petitioned school officials to cancel DeVos' address because of her now-recanted statement that founders of historically black colleges and universities were "real pioneers" of school choice.

HBCUs were founded during segregation, when black students were barred from attending white colleges in the South and beyond. DeVos managed to get through her remarks, wrapping up in about 20 minutes. But another huge chorus of boos erupted when she was awarded an honorary doctorate, and again when she said she would visit the home of school founder Mary McLeod Bethune to pay her respects. School president warns students Early in her speech, DeVos told the crowd, "One of the hallmarks of higher education, and of democracy, is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree." At that point, the commencement became so rowdy that school President Edison Jackson interrupted DeVos' remarks to issue a warning to graduates. "If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you," he said. "Choose which way you want to go."

 DeVos 'understood the legacy behind my story' Ca'Netta General was one of three students whose triumphs over hardships DeVos mentioned in her speech. General said she was honored that someone "would consider my story to be deemed worthy enough to be mentioned during graduation as a success story, not to give up." General, 27, of West Palm Beach, Florida, enrolled at Bethune-Cookman at age 24. She credited her family and mentors who encouraged her and "kept me in their prayers."

A mass communications graduate, she will attend Howard University and pursue a graduate degree in transformational leadership, she said. "I know that she understood where I was coming from and she understood the legacy that was behind my story," General said of DeVos. 'Real pioneers' remark follows DeVos Before DeVos' address, several students told CNN there was no place for her at commencement because of her comments in February about HBCUs, and they were miffed they didn't have more say in picking a graduation speaker. Though DeVos quickly walked back those comments and conceded the schools were born of racism, it was not enough for many on this campus, nor those who hold it dear.


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