The threat of possible protest during this spring’s commencement ceremony has been laid to rest as Gov. Bush turned down the invitation to speak at graduation Tuesday.
Arlene DiBenigno, director of the Office of External Affairs for governor, said Bush’s schedule would not allow him to attend and hopes the student body will keep him in mind to speak at other engagements.
SGA President Andrew Gillum said he was pleased with the news.
“It was a shock, but a good shock. I’m glad he had enough respect to not pursue the invitation,” Gillum said.
During a rally commemorating the March on Tallahassee, protesting Bush’s ‘One Florida Initiative’ on March 7, Gillum said graduates would not sit through an address given by the governor.
“We definitely want to send a message to that Florida A&M graduates will not sit through a ceremony adorned by a governor who does not support us.”
Discussing the matter during Monday’s weekly senate meeting, Saasha Wheeler, a sophomore senator said Interim President Lewis should be held responsible for inviting Bush without consulting the student body.
“I think we’re putting him (Bush) in a lose-lose situation because if he accepts it, then it looks like he doesn’t care about how we feel but if he doesn’t accept the invitation, it looks as if he doesn’t care about the university at all,” Wheeler said. “There’s too much focus on Bush when we should be blaming Lewis for inviting him.”
Eddie Jackson, vice president of public relations, said the invitation extended to Bush was not an attempt to offend students and symbolized a historical mark for the university.
“At the time, it was important for the governor to come on campus and see things that needed to be corrected,” Jackson said. “We never had a governor of Florida speak at graduation. He (Lewis) felt it was time, but the governor won’t be able to make it.
Jackson confirmed that Bishop A.J. Richardson will be the keynote speaker at commencement. Richardson is an alumnus presides over the 19th district of the AME Church.
Many graduating seniors said they are pleased with the outcome.
“I excited to know that he won’t be attending. He doesn’t seem to be in our favor,” said Ray Mosley, 22, a graduating senior biology student from East St. Louis, Ill. “It’s important we don’t forget about what he did.”
Although, Gillum was a major opponent of Bush speaking at the ceremony, he said he wants to keep the lines of communication open between the university and the governor.
“I was not going to allow propaganda to be spread during graduation where we had no choice but to listen. I welcome him to address the student body in an open forum where there’s some give and take and students can ask question,” Gillum said. “I just hope he keeps FAMU in the forefront when he is signing the budget.”
Jackson said his only concern now is a successful graduation ceremony.
“We’re just looking forward to commencement. It’s over now. We’re moving on..”