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Handful of George Mason students walkout of graduation in protest of Gov. Youngkin speech

Several graduating students held signs, turned their backs, and walked out as Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivered his commencement speech.

FAIRFAX, Va. — As Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Virginia) took the podium Thursday to deliver his commencement speech at George Mason University, some students demonstrated their opposition against him.

As part of a longstanding tradition, GMU says it asked Youngkin to join the ceremony, similar to other Commonwealth leaders in the past.

When the university first announced Youngkin as the speaker, students started an online petition and held rallies to get him removed. They argued the Republican governor fails to hold the same values as the college. Protestors specifically called out his stance on how race and history are taught in schools and policies concerning transgender students.

Once Youngkin walked up to the podium, you could hear cheers alongside boos. While the majority of students showed no signs of demonstration, some who decided to protest either raised signs saying, ‘Mason Demands Action,’ turned their backs on the governor or walked out altogether. 

“I think it feels very empowering,” Jason Motley, a graduating student who walked out, said. “I think whatever person he may be, his political views just don't align with the betterment of this university.”

GMU handed out nearly a record number of 11,000 degrees and certificates. This class is considered the largest and most diverse across the Commonwealth.

“His beliefs don't align with the university and a lot of beliefs in this institution,” student Dunni Oni added. “My big thing is ensuring that Mason students at large feel safe, heard and protected, and he does not ensure that.”

Joe Szymanski of the GMU College Republicans, who also walked the stage, said the group of protesters does not reflect the class as a whole.

“It wasn't very big and I think most of our university as I expected was there and sat and listened to the governor give his speech,” Szymanski said. “We have a lot of people who scream and shout and that gets them the most attention, but that's not in general how people work and that's not how our society works.”

In a letter to students weeks before graduation, GMU President Gregory Washington said that despite the backlash, the university planned 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.

WUSA9 reached out to Gov. Youngkin to comment on the appearance, and a spokesperson responded with the following statement about the commencement:

“The governor celebrated the largest graduating class in the history of George Mason University, their stories, and diversity of thought in the Commonwealth. The governor will continue to deliver for Virginia, preserve and protect free speech, and praise the many accomplishments of GMU grads.”

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