The University of Montevallo is set to hold its first commencement ceremony since the COVID-19 pandemic Saturday, May 8th on Flower Hill.
The much anticipated ceremony provides an opportunity for graduates of 2020 to participate in a graduation ceremony and walk across the stage. In the midst of the excitement bustling around the announcement, the University premiered Alabama Representative Bill Poole as the commencement speaker.
Bill Poole is a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, representing its 63rd district. Poole, a Republican, has served a a Representative to the State of Alabama since 2010.
The University announced not only that Poole will be this year’s commencement speaker, but that he will receive an honorary degree during the ceremony as well.
After the University’s announcement, petitions from Montevallo’s students and alumni began to circulate, criticizing the University’s commencement speaker selection.
Jessica Thrasher, a recent graduate of the University, composed the petition, titled “UM Graduates Deserve More (Bill Poole is not it.) In the petition, Thrasher writes, “As a nation, we have experienced the biggest racial social justice movement in decades, beginning in May 2020 with the death of George Floyd. Bill Poole promptly voted to restrict protest rights after the biggest year of rallies and protests across the state. “
Thrasher goes onto criticize Poole’s voting record and lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community and women’s rights during his tenure as a state representative.
“I understand why they picked Bill Poole, but I do not think he is the best representative for students at Montevallo,” says University of Montevallo senior Makenzie Wilson. The petition received a decent amount of attention, garnering 338 supporters.
In response to the backlash from students and alumni, the University sent a response email, writing “He has been a strong champion of higher education throughout his tenure in the State House. State funding for UM has risen more than 40% since he has been in office, and he has repeatedly fought to protect the state’s Education Trust Fund.Last year, he supported the state’s $1.25 billion education bond issue, which directly supported our University in many ways. Because of the efforts of Chairman Poole and other Alabama legislators, UM has been able to freeze tuition since 2018.”
Additionally, the University held meetings with the Student Government Association, where representatives of the student body were able to speak with President Stewart directly on the matter. Going forward, SGA will work collaboratively with the President to select a commencement speaker, to give student’s a voice in the matter.