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Romney is booed at Suffolk commencement

Governor's opposition to gay marriage spurs criticism and protest

Protesters angry over his stance against same-sex marriage hounded Governor Mitt Romney yesterday as he delivered the commencement address at Suffolk University, with some students arguing that his presence violated the school's nondiscrimination policy.

As the gowned governor rose to speak at the FleetBoston Pavilion, some in the crowd of 1,100 students turned their backs and booed, while others held up armbands representing the equal rights campaign for gays and lesbians. Police kicked out a few protesters.

Though he never waded specifically into the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage, the governor at times challenged the protesters, saying Suffolk president David J. Sargent had asked him to give a "free speech."

Some students, about a hundred of whom participated in an "alternative commencement" on Saturday, voiced anger that the university selected Romney as the keynote speaker. His active opposition to same-sex marriage, they argued, violated the university's nondiscrimination policy and prompted some students to skip the ceremony. The governor urged students to listen to those with different opinions. He also challenged dissident professors, some of whom sat on the podium with him wearing the ubiquitous purple armbands featuring yellow symbols for equality.

"I'm afraid that even some educators have become less devoted to exploring and testing different positions and viewpoints than they are to promoting their own bias," said Romney, who was awarded an honorary degree. "Bias is shallow thinking. If you have life all figured out in neat little packages, you're in Neverland, not the real world."

After listening to his speech, Monique Dyment shook her head in disapproval and called the governor a hypocrite.

"It's a complete contradiction that he's talking about being unbiased," said Dyment, 23, a sociology graduate from Hingham and one of many students wearing armbands. "He's one of the most biased politicians of the day."

After booing the governor and standing in the audience with his back turned to the stage, Joshua Feldman, a 22-year-old guest of one of the graduates, and two friends were escorted out of the pavilion by police.

"Is this free speech?" Feldman asked the officers as they pressed him to leave. "This governor supports bigotry."

Others strongly supported the governor's presence and saw his speech as the right response to the protests, which began in late March, soon after administrators announced Romney would be the university's commencement speaker.

"They're calling us close-minded, but they're really the ones who are being close-minded," said Jonathan Peter Wilutis, 23, a physical science major from Long Island, N.Y. "Like the governor said, you've got to see both sides. I thought his speech answered their protests."

The governor spoke about his childhood, his success as a venture capitalist, and his work leading the 2002 winter Olympics.

"When I was asked to leave my investment company to run the Olympics in Salt Lake City, I dismissed the idea out of hand. I was making too much money," he said, adding that the job paid "nothing" and "would lead nowhere."

But he described the job as "the highlight" of his professional life and said, "There are currencies more lasting than money." He urged students to explore the "deeper waters" of life, where they would find "family, friends, faith, community, country, caring, commitment" as well as " challenging ideas, opposing opinions, and uncomfortable battles."

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