'It’s just better for my mental health to not be there’: Valdosta State students upset about graduation speaker

Kemp VSU Graduation Protests

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - Valdosta State University (VSU) students are concerned about Governor Brian Kemp’s speech at the 227th commencement ceremony Saturday.

“At this point, it’s just better for my mental health to not be there," said Sam Powell, a Valdosta State University student.

While many are preparing for the graduation this weekend, Powell is one of many students who is against Kemp speaking.

“He causes so many people to feel ashamed and hurt and unloved. It’s something that we don’t support here at VSU because we support each other. We love each other," said Powell.

Powell said she was initially shocked when she first heard he was coming, but that shock quickly turned into anger for her and many of those who are set to graduate.

“Someone that they fundamentally disagree with is going to be trying to talk to them about being successful and being good stewards and good students,” said Powell.

Fellow student Kelsey Townsend said he also will not be there to watch his friends walk across that stage. He said that with the recent signing of the heartbeat bill, things just went too far.

“I think it’s bigger than that. I’m pro-autonomy. We see that so many instances within history, in our government, that men have full autonomy over what they do, whether it comes to their property, their guns, themselves. And we have not seen the same when it comes to people of color and women," said Townsend.

Townsend said he doesn’t want graduating seniors to let this ruin their big day, but in the future, he would like to see the students have more of a voice.

“There has to be a step for or like a process in the future that involves students in something like the commencement speaker," said Townsend.

Townsend said this indicates a larger problem of people of color not being heard across campus.

WALB reached out to the administration of Valdosta State University for comment and they responded with the following statement:

As we approach the university’s 227th commencement ceremony, Valdosta State University is honored to welcome Governor Brian Kemp as the Spring 2019 commencement speaker. This is a unique opportunity for our students, their families, and the campus community to hear from our state’s highest leader. Valdosta State University is committed to fostering a learning environment where open dialogue and the free exchange of ideas are welcomed and to graduating a quality, diverse student population prepared for roles as leaders in a global society.
Valdosta State University

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