The speaker for the 2013 graduation commencement was announced on March 21st as Rev. Samuel Rodriguez. Malone’s Facebook page was the first to release the information to students, faculty, and staff.
Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, is known as a spokesperson for Hispanic Evangelicals, especially Pentecostals, and has spoken at places such as the Republican National Convention in 2012.
He was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the seven most influential people of the year. He speaks to Congress frequently about immigration and Latino social justice issues.
Rodriguez released a book last week about his ideas on Christian culture in the U.S. called The Lamb’s Agenda: Why Jesus Is Calling You to a Life of Righteousness and Justice. He is involved in numerous organizations addressing poverty, pro-life issues, and racial equality. He was the first Hispanic to speak at the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service in Atlanta and received an award from Congress for racial equality.
Senior psychology major Sam Taylor was one of the first to find out by reading a Facebook post about who the speaker was. He voiced his concerns to King in a meeting addressing the beliefs of the speaker and organizations that Rodriguez is associated with that Taylor feels do not represent the senior class or the university.
“We found that there were incongruencies between the ideologies and philosophies of Malone and the speaker,” Taylor said, mentioning Rodriguez’s former ties to the Oak Initiative and the Liberty Counsel as extremist groups.
The Oak Initiative has been called an extremist group due to its outspoken anti-muslim, anti-homosexual and anti-Catholic beliefs. The ultra-conservative law firm the Liberty Counsel partnered with Liberty University, is best known for its stance against the Harry Potter books due to witchcraft and their stance against gay marriage and adoption by gay couples.
“I’m not entirely satisfied with the process of selecting a commencement speaker. I think that in the future a committee should be comprised…who bring forth a handful of candidates Malone can afford to bring that will put Malone on the map in a positive way,” Taylor said.
Currently the process of selecting a commencement speaker is in the hands of the president alone.
Vice President of Student Development Chris Abrams met with Dr. King and Taylor regarding the concern about the selection. He said he can see why King would choose Rodriguez.
“(Rodriguez) was someone who was recommended to King through other CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges and Universities) presidents,” Abrams said.
“I have heard him speak a few times now on Youtube and in Gordon College’s chapel podcast. He is a pretty energetic, funny, relevant evangelical that speaks in a way that evangelicals understand but also has a Hispanic point of view that I don’t think our students are exposed to that much,” Abrams said.