UAH students petition for new commencement speaker

Published: Mar. 29, 2016 at 1:35 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2016 at 1:59 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - There was criticism after the University of Alabama-Huntsville announced Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is this year's commencement speaker.

A group of students is now demanding a new speaker for their graduation ceremony.

Victoria Forrester started a petition on to have him ousted from giving the keynote speech at the university's graduation.

"Simply, a peaceful speaking up of the way I feel and the way several people feel," said Forrester, a UAH senior. "This petition is growing."

Forrester has a huge problem with the senator's voting record.

"It is a long-standing record of voting against funding for higher education, for public education," said Forrester. "I wouldn't be here, a civil engineering student, at the university if it wasn't for public education."

She is also worried his Donald Trump endorsement will incite violence at the graduation ceremony in May.

"There's been a lot of violence at those rallies," said Forrester. "I don't see why I should have to anticipate possible violence at my graduation."

Student Government Association President Austin Finley was on the committee that voted unanimously to invite Senator Sessions to give the commencement address.

"This decision was made well in advanced of any endorsements or anything of that nature, months ago," said Finley.

He stands behind the commencement committee's decision.

"Senator Sessions has been a strong supporter of our military," said Finley. "And, I'm very thankful for his service to the state of Alabama and to this country."

In a statement, a university spokesperson said the following:

The Honorable Jeff Sessions has ably served the people of Alabama as United States Senator since 1997, and was the unanimous choice for Commencement speaker of a diverse selection committee that represents students, faculty and staff.  As a University that values inclusiveness, we welcome Senator Sessions with the respect and civility that he and his office deserve.

Forrester said she understands the university's stance on the issue but plans to continue her quest to replace Senator Sessions with a new commencement speaker.

"I will respect the university's wishes if they wish to keep him," said Forrester.

Forrester said once she gets the signatures she needs, she plans to hand deliver the petition to the university's provost in hopes of getting a response from school leaders.

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