North Texas Daily

Light crowd, small Abbott protest at mass commencement

Light crowd, small Abbott protest at mass commencement

Light crowd, small Abbott protest at mass commencement
May 16
22:23 2015

Dalton LaFerney / News Editor

The university-wide mass commencement capped off the spring semester and finished the week of graduation ceremonies Saturday night, with a small group of Gov. Greg Abbott protestors asked to leave the Coliseum during his speech.

The Coliseum was nowhere near capacity, and about half of the floor seats, where the graduates sat, were empty. More than 4,000 students, the university said, graduated during ceremonies on Friday and Saturday, while about 300 to 400 students were in attendance Saturday for the mass commencement.

The commencement was originally slated to be held at Apogee Stadium. Forecasts earlier in the week predicted poor weather conditions Saturday during the outdoor commencement, so Smatresk decided to move the ceremony to the Coliseum. There were not any thunderstorms or drops of rain during the ceremony.

UNT President Neal Smatresk led the ceremony, noting the beginning of the university’s 125-year celebration. “This is the beginning of the big celebration for the university,” he said. UNT will officially mark 125 years in 2016.

Republican Gov. Abbott delivered his keynote address to the graduates uninterrupted by protests, which had been expected in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. When he was introduced by Smatresk, the crowd responded with applause. There was, however, a small group of silent protesters in the upper decks of Section E holding signs expressing disapproval of the governor. UNT police quickly removed the protesters, who then took up a brief protest outside the Coliseum.

Students from the feminist majority leadership alliance, the international socialist organization, TRIAD and the coalition for an Abbott-Free UNT participated in the protest.

“We believe that many of his policies are harmful to the student body here, specifically the most marginalized populations here,” Integrative studies senior Christy Medrano said.

Medrano said the banners addressed specific policies like House Bill 1403, which allows some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

“We figured that if we were peaceful and if we were cooperative that we would be able to stay but that is not the case, even after making sure that we made no noise, that we were the least disruptive group possible, we still got escorted out,” Medrano said. “We were told that we could not go back into the commencement to finish watching our friends graduate.”

One officer told the protesters they had been disrupting the ceremony.

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Protestors unveil a banner that reads “Abbott Free UNT” at the university-wide commencement ceremony. Police immediately removed the protestors seconds after they flashed the sign. Photo by Julian Gill – Staff Writer

Abbott’s address was aimed at the graduates overcoming obstacles, whatever they might be in life. The governor, who was paralyzed when a tree branch fell on his back, told the graduates that “challenges don’t determine your destiny.”

“Our lives don’t have to be defined by our circumstances,” Abbott said. “We can define our lives by the character that we have. As you leave UNT we look forward to watching the paths you take and the unique imprint you leave on this world.”

Other speakers included SGA president Kam Willard, who told graduates, “From this day on, you’ve set yourself apart.” UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson said UNT plays “a critical role in all of the state’s goals. We have more programs, more faculty, more students, and award more degrees, here at [UNT].”

Along with the graduation ceremony, two alumni were honored before the students. Smatresk and Jackson honored Dr. Don Buchholz, a former regent, with a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. George Dunham, longtime radio personality for the Mean Green, received  the UNT Presidential Medal of Honor.

Featured Image: Gov. Greg Abbott delivers the commencement speech in the Super Pit on May 16. The governor spoke about the graduates’ life paths and the obstacles they’ll face. Photo by Edward Balusek – Editor-in-Chief

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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