A senior White House aide to dad Donald Trump, Ivanka had recorded her message to graduates in mid May. It was to be her first graduation speech.
And then, last Thursday, school officials abruptly said amid backlash that “plans have been refocused more centrally on students” and that a practical nursing graduate from the university would be the only speaker.
Ivanka’s message was instead included in a secondary fashion: “Graduates will also be invited to separately view congratulatory messages from over 30 voices, including Ms. Trump and community members,” WSU Tech’s president, Dr. Sheree Utash said in a June 4 statement.
The school reversed itself largely due to the national unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis and ensuing demonstrators against racial injustice.
President Trump has expressed solidarity with Floyd’s family but sharply criticized some protesters as out-of-control, saying an armed force is needed to “dominate them.”
The cancellation faced its own criticism, just as Ivanka’s inclusion had.
“In light of the social justice issues brought forth by George Floyd’s death, I understand and take responsibility that the timing of the announcement was insensitive. … I respect and understand the sharply divided reaction to today’s announcement. The college stands with those who fight injustice and advocate for social equity,” Utash said last week.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, said, “The losers here are freedom of thought, the students and the central idea of universities as places of tolerance and learning,” according to The Sunflower, Wichita State University’s student newspaper.
On Friday, Ivanka tweeted her commencement speech, which was recorded on May 18. She alluded to the controversy and suggested she was targeted unfairly.
“Our nation’s campuses should be bastions of free speech. Cancel culture and viewpoint discrimination are antithetical to academia,” she wrote. “Listening to one another is important now more than ever!”
Kris Connor/Getty Images Ivanka Trump (left) and President Donald Trump
Given that her speech was filmed a week before Floyd was killed, it focuses instead on the novel coronavirus pandemic and the economic turmoil from social-distancing shutdowns to slow infections.
“Many of you have worked for this achievement and waited for his day for years,” Ivanka said early in her speech. “Now it is finally here and of course it is very different than anyone of us had ever imagined, so I want to say what I know we are all thinking: I wish we could be together in person. I wish that you could walk across the stage, shake hands and hold your diploma high to cheering crowds.”
“Sometimes it’s easy to think we have to be tough, that we have to keep going, and we do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stop to acknowledge the truth, the hardships and the disappointments that come our way,” Ivanka continued. “My heart goes out to you on this day and this time in our history because they’re very different from what you had envisioned or planned. Yet now, more than ever, we remember that changes and hardships do no predict failure. In fact they can be the greatest impetus for success.”
Ivanka, who called the WSU Tech students “wartime graduates,” said she had three pieces of advice to share.
“In ever generation, in each trial we face, the spirit of our people does not change: Americans meet every moment, overcome every challenge and answer every crisis with the will to succeed,” she said.
Ross D Franklin/AP/Shutterstock Ivanka Trump
Ivanka's three-part advice began with a reminder, citing a recent rabbi’s words, to use social distancing as an opportunity to spread “happiness and joy” to loved ones and lonely people in other ways — with phone calls and kind words.
She also encouraged graduates to make a quarantine resolution and to take heart in the fact that a changed world did not mean a worse one.
“In my own life I’ve found that my greatest personal growth has arisen from times of discomfort and uncertainty that one can only really appreciate in hindsight,” she said.
Her speech, which has been seen more than 300,000 times, drew some barbs as well.
“The hypocrisy in the Trump family is overwhelming,” one Twitter user wrote, “but they distract us with more heinous things.”
In another viral tweet, a user added a backdrop to her speech showing footage of the Floyd protests and police misconduct.
They wrote: “I fixed ivanka's speech.”