Ivanka Trump's Commencement Speech Canceled 'in Light of Social Justice Issues' amid George Floyd Protests
The cancellation comes amid growing criticism that President Donald Trump is inflaming racial divides in the U.S.
Ivanka Trump was removed as the headline speaker at the virtual graduation ceremony at Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology in Wichita, Kansas, the school announced late Thursday night, hours after it was announced that she was set to make a speech.
Ivanka, the 38-year-old daughter and senior advisor to President Donald Trump, had prerecorded a commencement speech weeks ago that was scheduled to highlight the school's virtual ceremony on Saturday.
On Thursday, WSU Tech President Dr. Sheree Utash tweeted a new statement saying Ivanka would no longer be delivering the headline speech.
"In light of the social justice issues brought forth by George Floyd's death, I understand and take responsibility that the timing of the announcement was insensitive," Utash's statement reads. "For this, I'm sorry. That was never the intent, and I want you to know I have heard you and we are responding."
The White House did not respond to PEOPLE for comment on the sudden cancellation.
A wave of protests against police brutality and racial inequality has swept the United States over the last week, following Floyd's death. Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
Video of Floyd's death showed former officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into the back of Floyd's neck as he repeatedly told the officer, "I can't breathe." Chauvin is now facing second-degree murder charges.
Ivanka was invited to speak at the school in February, Utash said on Thursday.
The president's daughter had prerecorded her commencement address last month prior to Floyd's death and the speech focused around the coronavirus crisis, which caused schools across the country to shut down in their final months and host virtual graduation ceremonies instead.
The school said Ivanka will still appear in an additional optional video message featuring 30 speakers, which students can choose to watch following the ceremony. It is not clear to what extent Ivanka's role will have in the optional video.
"You commence at a moment unlike any other," Ivanka said in her pre-taped speech, according to a White House transcript of her remarks given to PEOPLE this week.
Those words — spoken prior to Floyd's death — carry a different weight now, however.
President Trump has been accused of fanning the country's divide in the wake of Floyd's killing, tweeting out that protesters were "THUGS" and that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."
The president's critics have said the latter remark — which NPR reported is a reference to a racist statement made by a white Miami police chief during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s — has only intensified violence from the mostly peaceful protests around the country.
Recently, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker told the president directly on a phone call that his rhetoric was "inflammatory" and he was contributing to the growing unrest around the country.
That same day, Trump caused another nationwide rebuke after his administration ordered military police to clear an area of peaceful protestors around the White House so the president could stroll to a nearby church for a photo-op. The move raised concerns over Trump's use of the U.S. military against its own civilians and he was criticized by his former Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis, who warned Trump was a danger to the country.
"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us," Mattis, 69, wrote in a statement sent to media outlets on Wednesday.
A similar division played out after Ivanka was initially announced as WSU Tech's headline speaker. "I respect and understand the sharply divided reaction to today’s announcement," Utash wrote. "The college stands with those who fight injustice and advocate for social equity, and we’re profoundly proud of the diversity and social change being brought forth by our students, alumni, faculty, and staff."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.