Breaking News
More () »

Backlash over choice of Gov. Youngkin as commencement speaker at George Mason University

An online petition opposing the choice of Youngkin as speaker has garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

FAIRFAX, Va. — George Mason University announced last week that Virginia Gov. Glenn  Youngkin would deliver the commencement speech to graduating class of 2023 during the spring commencement on May 18 at EagleBank Arena. 

“We look forward to welcoming Governor Youngkin to speak to our graduating students, who we expect will comprise the largest and most diverse class of graduates ever,” Mason President Gregory Washington said in a press statement announcing the choice of speaker. “Governor Youngkin’s drive for lifelong learning and his entrepreneurial mindset is what we cultivate in all of our graduates.”

Youngkin would become the latest sitting governor of the Commonwealth to address Mason graduates. Past governors include Jim Gilmore (1998), Mark Warner (2003), Tim Kaine (2007) and Terry McAuliffe (2016).

However, some students do not want Youngkin to speak. An online petition on change.org opposing Youngkin as the commencement speaker has garnered more than 7,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon. 

The petition was started by Alaina Ruffin.

"Selecting a speaker that has passed anti-trans legislation, promoted the abolishment of racial equity curricula, and restricted the availability of literature in public schools is an intentional target towards historically marginalized communities comprising Mason. It is harmful and disrespectful to the many students who continuously shape GMU's community to bring in an individual who has also neglected the needs of Virginians," Ruffin writes.

John Dressel is with Mason's College Democrats. 

"This is not someone who reflects the values that the university claims to have," Dressel told WUSA9 in a recent interview. 

Meantime, the president of Mason's College Republicans says he is excited to see the governor speak. 

"He is the governor coming to speak at the largest public institution in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. That's pretty common," said Joe Szymanski. 

The Black, African-Heritage and Caribbean Coalition, a GMU organization, also posted an open letter to social media opposing the choice of Youngkin as speaker for the spring commencement.

"It is our responsibility as members of this community to stand up against bigotry and intolerance. We must demand that our administration acts and removes Youngkin as commencement speaker," the letter reads.  

In response to the backlash, another online petition in support of Youngkin speaking at George Mason has popped up online. So far, it has 143 signatures.

Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter responded saying, "Governor Youngkin looks forward to addressing the 2023 graduates of George Mason University and celebrating their tremendous accomplishment."

In a letter to students, university president Gregory Washington said that despite the backlash, the university plans to move forward with the commencement.

"I don’t believe that we should silence the voices of those with whom we disagree, especially in this forum where there is no imminent threat present as a result of the disagreements," Washington wrote in part.

Those students who stand firm in their opposition against Youngkin tell WUSA9 they plan to hold additional protests and possibly an organized walkout at graduation. 

WUSA9 is now on Roku and Amazon Fire TVs. Download the apps today for live newscasts and video on demand.

Download the WUSA9 app to get breaking news, weather and important stories at your fingertips.

Sign up for the Get Up DC newsletter: Your forecast. Your commute. Your news.
Sign up for the Capitol Breach email newsletter, delivering the latest breaking news and a roundup of the investigation into the Capitol Riots on January 6, 2021.

Before You Leave, Check This Out