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Posted on Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 1:12 p.m.

Many students not wowed by Rick Snyder's commencement speech inside Michigan Stadium

By Ryan J. Stanton


About two dozen students turned their backs on Gov. Rick Snyder inside the Big House today as he delivered the commencement address to the University of Michigan's 2011 graduating class.

Angela Cesere |

(Editor's note: This story was written by's Nathan Bomey and Ryan Stanton.)

Student reactions to Gov. Rick Snyder's commencement speech today at the University of Michigan were mixed, with some saying they were moved and others just plain bored.

And the fact that a small handful of the 5,500 graduates stood and turned their backs on the Republican governor as he spoke didn't sit well with some.

"I thought they could have at least gone in the aisles to do it or not shown up at all because it's not just their graduation. It's ours, too," said Stephanie Ozomaro, who said her view was obstructed because of a girl who stood up in front of her to protest Snyder.

Ozomaro, who received a degree in psychology, said she came to hear President Barack Obama deliver the commencement address last May and Snyder's speech didn't compare.

"I was really bored," she said of Snyder's message. "I mean, I don't know anything about the governor because I'm from California."

Few students who spoke with seemed aware of Snyder's policies or the fact that he has proposed more than $200 million in cuts to higher education.


Michigan graduate Nicholas Tejeda, 22, of Agoura Hills, Calif., is lifted into the air by fellow seniors and housemates toward the end of commencement ceremonies at Michigan Stadium today.

Melanie Maxwell |

Santosh Kumar, an aerospace engineering graduate, said he was surprised that some students weren't happy with the governor's appearance at U-M.

"It was interesting how it was received," Kumar said. "There were lots of people around me that weren't too happy with the governor. I'm not sure where that's coming from. I'm not too familiar with his policies."

Phillip Cervantes, who received a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, said he thought Snyder delivered a fine speech.

"The part about 'the leaders and best,' the part he actually wanted us to remember, I do remember," he said. "So I think that will stick with me for a long time."

Cervantes also said he found it rude that some students — about two dozen in all — stood up and turned their backs on Snyder, who has proposed deep cuts in university funding.

"I mean, it is kind of a tradition for the governor to speak, so I did think it was rude for them to turn their backs," he said. "But then again, it is their choice."

The most popular parts of the 18-minute speech seemed to be the first half, when Snyder drew laughs for his references to his time living in U-M dormitories and working various jobs.

"I liked the speech. I wish it could have been a little shorter," said U-M grad Chris Chaisson, standing on the 40-yard line after the ceremony finished. "I enjoyed him talking about his experiences (at U-M)."

Chaisson, who is graduating with a bachelor's degree in screen arts and culture, said he was "not happy about" the governor's proposal to eliminate the state's aggressive film tax incentives policy and replace it with a capped pool of $25 million for incentives every year.

"Film was on its way to growing here because the incentives were the largest in the country," he said. "I know for a fact that many people who were going to stay in the state are now thinking about going to L.A."

Michael Rossi, who double-majored in English and economics and is now going to work for tech company MyBuys in Ann Arbor, said he didn't find the speech very inspirational.

"I thought the governor related to the students and talked about himself as a student in a non-condescending way, but I didn't think the speech was as inspirational as I would have hoped," he said. "I don't think he presented as much advice as I would have wanted."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.


Ben Alfaro

Tue, May 3, 2011 : 12:08 a.m.

Having been at commencement, the speech was dry and entirely about himself. There was no piece of advice or direction in what he talked about. But I don't wish to argue to that end. In reply to the Snyder supporters, I'm curious, how many of you make north of six figures and operate corporate businesses? Because if you claim anything under that, you're being hurt in the short and long term by these cuts. Face it: if you don't pay for education now, you pay for it in prison costs later. Since when did conservatism equate cutting nearly all effective, proven social service for the working class? Is this blind faith, or do we all genuinely dislike the services and public options that keep the working class afloat? I really need clarification. No logical rationalization has been said yet about why harvesting corporate tax cuts on unions and schools and public workers, and not applying that revenue to the deficit, is effective. There's a clear generational bias on these comments too, so understand I don't mean disrespect, I honestly want to know? Since when did teachers and firefighters become the enemy?


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 8:36 p.m.

Wow a whopping 2 dozen turned their backs. All the hullabaloo and student support. Where was it?


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 7:28 p.m.

To Mr. Ryan J. Stanton: How many students did you interview to determine that "many students not wowed by Snyder's speech"?

Mike D.

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 6:52 p.m.

I'm disappointed in how few students are aware of what their political leaders are doing to education and the future of this country. What happened to students having a political conscience? Are these kids so self-absorbed that they can't, I don't know, watch the news or read a newspaper once in a while? If these kids understood that Snyder was gutting education to line the pockets of his wealthy friends, they'd all have turned their backs. We're headed to oblivion, and the culprit is indifference.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

These "Two Dozen" did not learn anything of value at The University of Michigan. I turn my back on you.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

".. a small handful of the 5,500 graduates stood and turned their backs on the Republican governor as he spoke.." Take away message for the governor (and his supporters): Even within the most (stereotypically) liberal segment of the population in the most liberal city in Michigan, 99%+ either support the cuts or are indifferent. Is that the message the back turners were hoping to send? (I realize there are other reasons people didn't support the back turning (e.g., appropriate venue), but the concerns about educational impact didn't rise above these reasons).


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

I found his speech to be brilliant; not the usual political crap that the majority of career politicians spit out. It was tender, kind, and aimed at the graduating students. To turn your back on someone who is speaking - it' simply rude and disrespectful. The grads who did so looked foolish. And I'm proud that the majority of the grads did not join in such foolery. The majority of voters voted for change - and change we're getting with Snyder. We don't have to accept every proposal he brings forward. But he is our elected Governor and unless he's breaking the law, he deserves a chance to be heard; and he deserves respect.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 7:29 p.m.

Well said.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 7:14 a.m.

I'm thinking those who found the speech boring are the graduates who can't endure 18 minutes of concentration. Would they sit through an 18 minute youtube event? Probably not. They would be interrupted by facebook, twitter, and other prompts before they got anywhere near 18 minutes. I say the 9 minute mark was pretty good for most of them, if that is as far as they got. Shame. There is no such thing as efficient multi-tasking, no matter what anyone says.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 1:31 a.m.

I looked through all the photos and they sure look like a lot of happy graduates, for such a negative headline and article. #justsayin'


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 1:27 a.m.

Next year, bring in Bill Clinton with his "I feel your pain theme".


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 5:17 p.m.

Yes, please bring Bill Clinton with his Federal Surplus and booming economy.

Knobby Kabushka

Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 9:22 p.m.

I found it funny that most students found the part of the speech about living in dorms, etc the most interesting. I mean what else can he say to inspired them, Oh lets see - I sent thousands of jobs to China, I'm screwing the commoners of Michigan out of money so I can give it to my corporatocracy bosses, for a cush job later on and also you guys graduating today should be thankful you got educationed before I was governor, because those coming after you won't have the money to do so...


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 1:26 a.m.

How about how unions have raised wages and benefits so high in the state of Michigan that no business wants to locate here?


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

there are four subhead links for commencement. one is to a photo gallery. here are the other three: Snyder tries to humanize but so do protesters Many students not wowed by speech Snyder strangling democracy, democracy group says instead of making us read 4 posts, why didn't you just do one story called "We don't like Republican governors and we thought commencement sucked." would have saved us all a lot of time.


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

The typical commencement speech is boring. Best of all I had to sit through was from Lawrence Kasden.


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 8:17 p.m.

@Ray: I'd go with basic innumeracy and an inability to see the world from someone else's viewpoint. That seems to be the culprit in many of the country's ills...


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

shanedr, Are you not aware of the $1.8billion Slick gave to his wealthy friends under the guise of a "corporate tax" break??? While some conservatives out there are saying don't increase taxes on the wealthy, which I can't for the life of me understand given how well the wealthy have done in the last decade, they are ignoring the fact that the wealthy, thanks to Slick's new generosity with our money, are getting a huge tax break. I know, Slick says that the "corporate tax" break is necessary to create jobs but this is nothing more than repackaged trickle down economics; the very lie that created the ever widening gap between the rich and everyone else. This doesn't even begin to consider the hugely destructive effects from Slick's paying for the giveaway to his friends by robbing from our children's education. The very future of our state and country. Why don't working conservatives see this???


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

With all the negative publicity in regards to Governor Snyder speaking at the UM Spring Commencement it's surprising anyone listened!


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 6:37 p.m.

The couple dozen students that felt justified in damaging the graduation experience for others have not yet come to grips with reality. These young adults will never have the entitlements their parents had. Any dollars spent going forward that we can't pay for has their name on it. They should be thanking Gov. Snyder for looking out for their best interest. I know it isn't fair that they should have to suffer because my generation lived the American Dream, and then some, but it's reality. Hats off to the graduates that are focused and positive. We expect great things from you.


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 8:36 p.m.

Marshall, Always quick with the witty reply....

Marshall Applewhite

Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 8:27 p.m.

@RayA2 The apocalypse is upon us. Haha.


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 7:22 p.m.

The couple dozen students who protested at the graduation may be the only ones who have actually grasped the reality of Slick's criminal destruction.


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 6:18 p.m.

What a liberal outlet your blog is. You focus on anyone negative to the Governor and compare Obama's speech writers to Synder himself. Tell you what, you hire a team of speech writers for Synder and I bet he'll sound like Obama. How about focusing on the positive, which is what most people though this was.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 2:29 a.m.

There is no comparision between a leader like Obama and Synder. You can hire all the speech writers you want for Synder and his ideas will still be bad for Michigan.


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 7:25 p.m.

Joe, if I were the Ann staff I would thank you for the "liberal" tag. Far better than being lumped in with the ignorance that passes for conservatism these days.


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 6:12 p.m.

Of course they weren't wowed. They've been brain washed by the teachers who want everything their way. I haven't heard a single one of them come up with a viable alternate to the lack of money causing cuts throughout Michigan. They want the other guy to "bite the bullet". Just not them. They either need to come up with a workable alternative or else shut and do the best they can.