NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., May 3 (UPI) -- After mounting controversy and student protests, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has withdrawn from delivering this year's commencement speech at Rutgers University.
Rice was to be paid $35,000 to speak to the Rutgers class of 2014 and receive an honorary doctoral degree from the university, but earlier this week students staged a sit-in at the campus' administration building. The students voiced concerned about Rice's role in the Bush administration, specifically the Iraq War.
Although Rutgers officials stood by their choice of graduation speaker, Rice took it upon herself to withdraw and put the controversy to rest, saying, "Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families. Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time."
Rice's statement continued:
I am honored to have served my country. I have defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy. But that is not what is at issue here. As a Professor for thirty years at Stanford University and as it’s former Provost and Chief academic officer, I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way. Good luck to the graduates and congratulations to the families, friends and loved ones who will gather to honor them.
The protests continue the recent trend of controversy following Rice's presence. Her invitation to speak at the University of Minnesota elicited similar protests and many are upset by her seat on the board of the file-sharing firm Dropbox.