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New College of Florida to punish grads who shouted down commencement speech

Jeers, chants and booing from some graduates of New College of Florida recently led to an abrupt end to conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts’ commencement speech.

Students who participated in the disruption — which effectively led to the TD Ameritrade founder ending his speech early — will be punished for their actions, the president of the college stated in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

“That students intermittently disrupted the proceedings was a disheartening reflection of the prevailing intolerance for diverse viewpoints in today’s society. But that illiberal attitude hasn’t and won’t rule New College,” President Richard Corcoran wrote.

“…Several students now face consequences for their actions. Repercussions could range from withholding degrees until students issue apology letters or take mandatory classes on civil discourse to suspension or expulsion.”

The op-ed does not state how many grads will be punished.

Video of the ceremony shows that Ricketts’ speech was initially hit with some technical difficulties. But eventually he got his stride, telling the class of 2024: “I’d like to really talk to you about how special you are. Nobody in the world . . . has ever been born exactly like each one of you.”

As his speech progressed, chants of “free Palestine, free Palestine” broke out. A verbally frustrated Ricketts could be heard over the mic considering shutting down his speech, but decided to press forward.

“The next thing I want to say is freedom. Freedom is important, to have all the choices for a career that you want to make,” he said before someone from the audience yelled back, “what about freedom of speech” and another yelled “wrap it up.”

According to Corcoran: “Mr. Ricketts remained composed as he delivered his address, though a momentary pause betrayed his concern. ‘They don’t care,’ he confided to me in a brief side discussion, the microphone inadvertently capturing his words, later revealed in video footage of the event. ‘I hate it, but they really don’t care what I have to say.'”

Ricketts ended his speech early, and as he was awarded an honorary degree from the college, a mix of cheers and boos rang out from the audience.

New College, a small liberal arts school, has been part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to reform higher education in the state. He appointed conservative trustees to transform the school into what some call the “Hillsdale of the South.” The new trustees abolished the DEI office and gender studies program. The changes have prompted anger and protests from some faculty and students at the college.

“In the final exchange inadvertently captured on the mic, Mr. Ricketts and I acknowledged the broader significance of our actions. It wasn’t merely about New College but about upholding the principles of free speech and civil discourse in an increasingly polarized society,” Corcoran wrote in his op-ed. “‘We will win, Joe,’ I declared. Mr. Ricketts echoed the sentiment, ‘You will win.'”

“In a world often fraught with discord, I believe New College’s unwavering stance can be a beacon of hope—a testament to the inseparability of freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth.”

MORE: New College of Florida offers ‘haven for Harvard refugees’

IMAGE: YouTube screenshot

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.