Protests during Gov. Snyder's MSU commencement speech

3:34 PM, Dec 15, 2012   |    comments
Gov. Rick Snyder gives the commencement speech to 818 Michigan State University students and their family and friends on Saturday, Dec, 15, 2012. / Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Jordan Bresnahan planned to spend today celebrating his graduation from Michigan State University.

But before he headed inside for the ceremony, he spent time outside, protesting Gov. Rick Snyder, who was the featured speaker at the event.

"I've got to go inside and let my classmates know that they are entering a workforce where they are likely to earn $1,500 a year less than other states because of the decision (Snyder) made this week," Bresnahan, from East Lansing who is graduating with a degree in international relations, said. "What he's done is very bad for Michigan."

A couple hundred protesters capped a wild week in Michigan with the protests. They lined up at corners and streets surrounding the Breslin Student Center and handed out carnations to the graduates.

But inside, there were no protests of Snyder's speech. Unlike last year, when a couple of dozen graduates turned their back on Snyder while he spoke at their commencement, graduates today sat respectfully while he spoke.

He was booed when he was introduced, but when he ended his speech, he was applauded, perhaps because he ended his speech with a "Go Green."

Mary Jo Washington, 47, of Detroit, came today to celebrate a cousin's graduation. She said she was glad Snyder stayed away from talking about politics.

"I think that would have made it more politicized," she said. "I don't agree with what the Republicans pushed through this week in this lame-duck legislature, but I think he made the right choice by staying away from politics. It was more about the graduates."

Snyder himself has never taken part in a public protest, despite having attended the protest-happy University of Michigan in the 1970s, he told the Free Press before the commencement exercises.

But, he understands why some people do.

"It's part of democracy," he said. "It's how some people think is the best way to express their views.

"I know there's been a more organized effort to protest (this year). I hope it doesn't negatively impact the students. The day is about the students."

Snyder said he has expressed his political views in other ways, even before becoming governor.

The week was filled with protests. More than 12,000 people - mostly union workers - showed up Tuesday in Lansing to rally against right-to-work legislation. There was a heavy police presence and pushing and shoving between protesters and police.

That was not the case today.

There were MSU police around, and a couple of state police cars parked behind Snyder's vehicle outside the Breslin Center.

Nearly every day this week has seen some sort of protest in Lansing.

Snyder acknowledged it's been a divisive week.

"We were really making progress (on coming together as a state)," he said. "This was a step back; but life isn't a straight line, there are steps forward and steps back. This is one more challenge we have to overcome."

Alan Opra, of Sterling Heights, came to East Lansing this morning to protest.

"The governor has lied to the state," he said. "They are trying to drive the unions out. If you don't pay the electric company, you don't get electricity. You shouldn't be allowed to freeload and get the benefits the union negotiates for without paying for the services."

About 1,600 undergraduates got their degrees this morning the Breslin Center. Snyder said he has two choices when it comes to graduation speeches - talk about policy or talk to the students.

"There has been a lot of talk this week already about policy," he told the graduates. That was the only reference he made to the protests.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or


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