Students at Goddard College have chosen Mumia Abu Jamal as the speaker for their commencement ceremonies on Sunday. The Goddard alumnus is serving a life sentence for the murder of a police officer; his address was prerecorded in prison.
The school holds 20 commencement events each year, allowing students in each degree program “to personalize their graduation experience.”
Undergraduates are allowed to choose their speaker, and they chose Abu Jamal, according to the college.
“Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that,” said Bob Kenny, Goddard’s interim president.
But the decision has upset some groups in Vermont.
“Your invitation to this convicted murderer demonstrates an absolute disregard for the family of Danny Faulkner and the families of other police officers who have been killed while serving their communities,” wrote Michael O’Neil, president of the Vermont State Troopers Association, in a letter to Kenny.
Abu Jamal was convicted in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was originally sentenced to death but fought the sentence through a years-long process that received national media attention. His sentence was reduced to life in prison in 2011.
As a prisoner, he has become a well known and controversial author. His essays have reached a global audience and his books have sold thousands of copies and have been translated into nine languages, according to Goddard.
Abu Jamal received a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard in 1996, completing his coursework by correspondence. His syndicated Prison Radio show airs on WGDR-WGDH Goddard Community Radio.
Abu-Jamal has given commencement speeches at other colleges that resulted in similar outcry, according to philly.com. His address in 1999 to Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and a 2000 address for Antioch College’s commencement in Yellow Springs, Ohio, resulted in protests from police officers, prosecutors, and Faulkner’s family.
Abu Jamal’s commencement remarks were prerecorded by Prison Radio. His address will be delivered at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Haybarn Theatre at Goddard College in Plainfield.