Despite receiving criticism from some students, faculty and alumni, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) addressed Millersville University’s graduates Saturday morning with a mostly positive speech.
About a dozen students and faculty who felt he shouldn’t have been the one to do it turned their chairs around as he began.
“At the end of the day, he’s turned his back on us, so we turned his back on him. So, I just wanted to something symbolic but still it was able to be in a respectful manner,” said Kyle Johnson, who graduate Saturday. Johnson was among 1,109 students graduating Saturday.
No one booed the governor or shouted out at him.
In the months since Corbett confirmed he’d give the address, an online petition protesting the pick garnered 2,270 signatures.
In his first two years in office, he proposed steep cuts to education. Students and others in the university community say that led to tuition hikes, job cuts and extracurricular programs being cut.
The highest tuition hike Saturday’s graduates experienced percentage-wise, was when it increased 7.5 percent for the 2011-2012 academic year. The year before, the increase was 4.5 percent. This year, the increase was 3 percent.
For the coming year, Corbett has proposed level funding of $1.58 billion to higher education in exchange school leaders keeping tuition hikes at or below inflation.
During his speech, Corbett touched on typical commencement themes such as hope for the future and hard work ahead.
He did not directly address his critics, though referred to spending issues at the State Capitol.
“It’s easy to spend someone else’s money, which is a habit we have been trying to change in Harrisburg,” Corbett said, while telling a story about Thomas Edison losing money in the steel industry.
Some students had no strong feelings about Corbett as commencement speaker, instead focusing on the accomplishment of having graduated.
“What I’ll remember the most are the lessons I learned outside of class, the professors, oh there’s a story back in the day, I did this. And, you hold onto that,” said Alex Dorsheimer, who graduated Saturday.
The selection committee that usually chooses the commencement speaker did not meet this year, said university spokeswoman Janet Kacskos. Corbett had been on lists from previous years.
“Even though they may have disagreed with what the governor did with budgets, he’s still the governor of the commonwealth and deserves our respect,” said Kacskos.