EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Met with cheers and jeers, Gov. Chris Christie on Monday encouraged Seton Hall University’s graduating class to “be a disrupter” like him.
Referring to a New York Times Magazine article about him, titled “The Disrupter,” the governor encouraged students to use their education to disrupt the status quo to create change.
“Be a disrupter in the way your heart and mind tells you to be a disrupter,” said Christie, who gave the commencement speech at the Izod Center in East Rutherford. “To be a disrupter in the way your education tells you disruption is needed.”
Several students at the private Catholic college in South Orange heeded his advice, including one who shouted “Shut up!” toward the end of the speech.
“Do not take today’s accomplishment lightly. As from your early enthusiasms—both from your cheers and your other expressions—I can tell that you are not taking it lightly,” Christie said. He left the stage to a partial standing ovation, as well as to some boos.
News that he was delivering the speech was met with mixed reactions even before it started.
Joseph DePierro, the dean of the College of Education and Human Services who sat on the stage with Christie during the ceremony, said there was a general feeling of disappointment among students at the private Catholic college that Christie was chosen.
“I’m really bothered,” DePierro told the Asbury Park Press. “He’s called teachers union leaders ‘thugs.’ He’s talked about defying the state Supreme Court. How is that being a good role model for young adults?”
Christie, a Republican, is a 1987 graduate of Seton Law School in South Orange. Since becoming governor in 2010, he has become known for his fights with the state’s teachers and other public employee unions, among other things. He’s also embroiled in a fight over his cuts to education.
He cut $181 million in aid to higher education and nearly $1 billion in K-12 aid this budget year. The Newark-based Education Law Center sued Christie over his K-12 cuts, and a ruling from the state Supreme Court is expected soon. He has suggested that defying a court order was an option.
The current budget proposal restores $250 million in public education aid.
Other faculty thought it was an honor to have a sitting governor who is also an alumnus come and speak, regardless of party affiliation.
Assistant Communications Professor James Kimble said he found Christie to be just “a normal guy” who lets his foibles come through.
Kimble said he didn’t find the speech overly political or rife with a conservative message, pointing out: “A conservative stance, in most cases, is to keep things the same, not to disrupt them.”
Christie has delivered commencement addresses at Seton Hall Law School, Monmouth University, Rutgers and the University of Delaware, where he received his undergraduate degree in political science in 1984.
During his speech at Monmouth University last year, there was also some booing and a few students turned their backs to the governor as he spoke.
Business management major Nick Naumann, 22, from Connecticut said he likes Christie but thought teachers “would flip out” when he spoke, since they could lose their jobs with continued budget cuts.
He said the reaction around campus that Christie was speaking at graduation seemed to vary by school.
“I thought it was great, but I like the guy,” Naumann said.
Grace Annunziata, whose granddaughter Sarah Villari was graduating with a business degree, said she found Christie’s speech on Monday “thoroughly enjoyable.”
“I just thought he was so truthful,” she said. Annunziata was less impressed with the booing during his speech, which she said was inappropriate, regardless of political philosophy, on a day of celebration.
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