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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nashua grad, New England College student upset over Ayotte commencement appearance

HENNIKER – When Erin Page heard she was selected to serve as the student commencement speaker for New England College, from which she’ll graduate in May, she couldn’t have been happier.

But that happiness was slightly dampened when she heard the honorary degree recipient and guest commencement speaker would be Sen. Kelly Ayotte. ...

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HENNIKER – When Erin Page heard she was selected to serve as the student commencement speaker for New England College, from which she’ll graduate in May, she couldn’t have been happier.

But that happiness was slightly dampened when she heard the honorary degree recipient and guest commencement speaker would be Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

Page, a Nashua High School North graduate, said it is her identity as a gay woman that makes the senator’s presence at her graduate hard to swallow.

“For me, I do not believe that she exemplifies what our school is all about,” Page said, discussing Ayotte’s stance against same-sex marriage and other issues.

“We have such a diverse community, so it’s upsetting when someone who does not coincide with that is invited and then is going to be honored.”

Page started an online and paper petition to have Ayotte removed as commencement speaker, gaining more than 100 student signatures in just a few days, but said she knows a change is unlikely.

At least, she said, she hopes to change the college’s selection process for commencement speaker and honorary degree recipients going forward.

“I hope that my actions, and my community’s actions, will change the way that things are done in the future and that no other graduating class will have to, at the last minute, stand up and try to argue over who the next commencement speaker is,” Page said.

Ayotte’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment by presstime.

But New England College Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark Watman said that while he appreciates Page’s passion, Ayotte’s invitation to speak at graduation wouldn’t be rescinded.

“We are very pleased to have her on campus,” Watman said. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we are an institution that celebrates a wide variety of viewpoints and free expression among our students.

“We’ve brought a great number of politicians with different points of view to campus. …We don’t isolate our invitations to either liberal or conservative standpoints.”

Page said she understands the college’s position and that she hopes the situation will give her a chance to talk with the senator about her concerns.

Watman said the university is proud of Page’s commitment to her point of view and is willing to work with her to create a more inclusive commencement speaker selection process. Currently, a subcommittee of the college’s board of trustees selects the honorary degree recipient and commencement speaker, taking suggestions from the community.

If Page has her way, that process will include more stakeholders in years to come, including student, faculty, staff and community representatives.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis
on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).