Z2B Photography/Tyler Begley


Recently, Patriots reeled at the news that Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin was invited to speak at the commencement for the Class of 2023 this May. 

In a letter to university students and faculty, President Gregory Washington addressed the upset.

“It is my sincere hope that our students use this opportunity to share their stories, challenges and triumphs, ” Washington wrote. 

“And that the governor will hear their opinions, respectfully consider and reflect on them.” 

Students filled the Merten Hall Board of Visitors meeting on Tuesday, April 4, with President Washington to comment on the decision to include the polarizing governor, in spite of the tuition agenda that was scheduled for the meeting.

“Our students must prepare to inherit and lead a world with endless conflicts and divisions,” Washington wrote in the email. As a contemporary student who has been in the workforce in this county for 21 years now, this is so profoundly true. I have never had a job where I got along with every person I worked with. It does not seem possible. 

I can see both sides of the political opinion about Youngkin speaking. I come from a fundamentalist Christian family. I am also queer. It goes without saying how much of a wrench that can be in the turning gears of family relations.

I dated my current partner for six years before introducing them to my parents, which was a turning point for me. My parents will likely be glad to see Youngkin speak at my commencement and it is important to me that my parents enjoy this event. But, it is also important to me that I enjoy the event. My partner, like myself, feels the distress of Youngkin’s agenda as it relates to LGBTQIA+ issues.

If Youngkin’s policies and executive orders existed when I was a closeted teen, I guarantee my already difficult, but loving and fulfilling relationship with my parents would be far less possible. The policies our governor stands for are nothing short of barbaric. 

I also wanted to note his lack of popularity in this county. Youngkin won less than 35 percent of the vote in Fairfax County. 

You do not challenge students by inviting a speaker with an agenda of forcibly outing potentially closeted LGBTQIA+ students. You don’t challenge us by inviting a speaker who believes teaching accurate history in Virginia is somehow wrong. 

With this invitation, you challenge the integrity of our university’s stance on equity and inclusion. With this invitation, you challenge the location where commencement will be celebrated by many. I am challenged to walk out on Youngkin’s speech unless the university can provide an alternate speaker in another location at the same time, I believe he should feel disrupted, just as I feel like this is a disruption to our celebration.

The governor campaigned heavily on education reform. The Virginia Board of Education approved revised social science and history standards last week which relegate mentions of the gay rights movement to the eleventh grade, which for me would have been four years after I found out I was queer. 

I propose we challenge George Mason University to provide an alternative speaker to address students who choose not to stand for Youngkin taking up our space on our special day. I propose if we let Youngkin speak, we let him speak before less than 35 percent of the graduating class. And to the governor: please be respectful of the many seniors who choose a different way to celebrate our commencement during your speech.