Updated (5/1/2017, 8:17 p.m.) with comment from Secretary DeVos.
Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, will be the keynote speaker during commencement exercises this month at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“Much like Dr. Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University, Secretary DeVos deems the importance of opportunity and hope for students to receive an exceptional education experience,” says a university news release announcing Ms. DeVos as the speaker. “Her mission to empower parents and students resonates with the history and legacy of Dr. Bethune.”
In February, Ms. DeVos came under fire after she remarked in a statement that HBCUs are “real pioneers of school choice,” in an effort to link her key policy platform with black colleges. Ms. DeVos walked back those comments in the days that followed. An online petition to stop Ms. DeVos from speaking at the university has drawn more than 2,500 signatures.
On Monday she said, in a written statement, that “since its founding Bethune-Cookman University has served as a flagship institution of higher learning and as a great example of the terrific education HBCUs have historically and continue to provide to students.” She said she was pleased to accept the university’s invitation.
For his part, Edison O. Jackson, the university’s president, said that “Bethune-Cookman University is a school built on legacy and the transformation of students. Dr. Bethune’s love for students started with five little girls and grew to over 250 students during her time as university president,” he said in a statement. “The legacy of Dr. Bethune is that she was not constrained by political ideology, but worked across all parties to support B-CU.”
The commencement ceremony is scheduled for May 10.