Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., on Friday morning delivered the commencement speech at Rowan University, in spite of the vigorous protests against letting the governor -- who has made significant cuts to public education in the state -- speak at a school known for training teachers.
Christie told the students at the university, located in Glassboro, New Jersey, that a degree does guarantee success but rather "sets the stage" for a life of opportunities.
"I believe in the end what will determine your success or your failure will be how hard you're willing to work," he said. The governor shared his grandmother's life story to illustrate how even someone without a formal education can lead a successful life.
Christie's remarks were largely personal. He shared, for instance, that his grandmother would only allow him to watch two television shows a week: one college football game on Saturday afternoons and "Meet the Press" on Sundays.
The decision to invite Christie to deliver the commencement speech, and to bestow him with an honorary degree, sparked outrage among some students and alumni, particularly education majors. Rowan alumni Christina and Joseph Nappi launched an online petition on Change.org, demanding the school revoke its invitation. As of Friday morning, the petition had more than 2,800 signatures.
"Rowan is historically a teachers' college. No governor in NJ history has been more adversarial to teachers and public education than Chris Christie," Nappis wrote on the Change.org petition. "His policies have damaged public education and the teaching profession as a whole. He is not deserving of this honor from Rowan."
The petition page displays a "meme," first posted online by a labor union, that blasts Christie for the significant cuts to education he's made -- totaling around $1 billion -- while promising major corporate tax breaks.
It's not unusual for controversy to bubble up at universities over commencement speakers, and this year has been no different.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this month decided against delivering the commencement speech at Rutgers University after students objected to her appearance because of her role in the Iraq war.
"As a professor for 30 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," she said in a statement.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, backed out of giving the commencement address at Smith College because of protests, while Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, backed out of speaking at Haverford College due to protests over his leadership.