Some UNT students decry Abbott as graduation speaker

DENTON — A petition is gaining steam to replace Gov. Greg Abbott as the keynote speaker at next month's University of North Texas commencement ceremony.

Some students posted the petition on Change.org, saying Abbott's views don't align with UNT's.

"The University of North Texas' student body is made up of students from all walks of life. Therefore, it is pivotal that our keynote speaker be someone who reflects not only our student population but our views on equality and representation. Governor Abbott is an advocate for immigration reform, border patrol, and anti-equal marriage laws. This does not align the spirit of the University of North Texas which prides itself in providing equal opportunities for their students. While Governor Abbott's story is inspirational, his views on inequality cannot be overshadowed by this. Our Mean Green Pride comes from being heard and respected. Which is why we ask University President Neal Smatresk to find a new keynote speaker for graduation."

The petition has more than 1,700 signatures in only a few days.

"I'll sign it," said student Jessica Hoover. "A lot of the perspectives he has don't reflect the perspectives of students at this college."

But other students said the petition — and the attention it's getting — is pointless.

"The university has already said he's going to come," said Baileigh Poston, vice chair of UNT's College Republicans chapter. "Politics aside, he has a story to share. Getting a tree to fall on you, crushing your spine and going through rehab to live your life again, it's a very inspiring story."

UNT President Neal Smatresk told News 8 by phone that any potential speaker would draw a wide range of reaction.

"I was prepared for blowback for whatever decision we made," he said.

Smatresk said the university considered at least a dozen possible speakers, but that most were unavailable — or simply cost too much. One candidate asked for a $500,000 fee and a personal jet flight.

Abbott will speak for free.

"We've had a lot of different people [on campus]. Wendy Davis was here," Smatresk said. "We hope our students will be passionate in all civil discourse."

This is the first year the collective graduating class will hear a campus-wide keynote address. Most students will actually receive their diplomas at smaller ceremonies centered around the May 16 weekend.


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