A Vermont College released the commencement speech of a one-time death row inmate now serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, 60, made a pre-recorded speech to graduates at Vermont’s Goddard College, his alma mater. The video was played Sunday afternoon for 20 students receiving bachelor degrees from the Plainfield school where Abu-Jamal earned a degree in 1996.
Officials at Goddard released the full speech as well as a transcript late Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve been away from Goddard College, perhaps longer than most of you have been alive,” Abu-Jamal said in the speech. “I last walked on campus during the late ‘70s.”
Abu-Jamal spent most of his speech describing the culture of Goddard College while challenging the students to use what they learned to spark social change in the world.
“The nation is in deep trouble, largely because old thinking, both domestically and globally, has led us into the morass that the nation now faces, which may be encapsulated by references to place-names that ring in our minds: Gaza; Ferguson; and Iraq—again!” Abu-Jamal said. “These are some of the challenges that abide in the world, which it will be your destiny to try and analyze and resolve. As students of Goddard, you know that those challenges are not easy, but they must be faced and addressed.”
Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, was originally sentenced to death for killing police Officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981, but he was resentenced to life in 2012.
His claims that he's been victimized by a racist justice system have attracted international support. A radio show, documentaries and books have helped publicize his case. Goddard College describes him as "an award winning journalist who chronicles the human condition.''
Faulkner’s family, Philadelphia Police and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams have maintained Abu-Jamal was Faulkner’s killer. The college’s decision to choose Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker sparked outrage not only from the Faulkner family but also U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, who called on the college to rescind its offer.
"I cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer," The Pennsylvania Republican wrote in a letter to Kenny. "What possible enlightenment can your students obtain from this man?"
Faulkner’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, spoke to NBC10 about the college’s decision to select Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker.
“The only thing I would want to hear from Mumia Abu-Jamal is him admitting and confessing to my husband’s murder,” she said. “Shame on them. They could have another commencement speaker that would give these students wisdom before they start out in life. Thirty-two years later the Faulkner family, my family and I, have to endure the pain of him being able to speak in public and having rights. Having a murderer, a radical, and someone who hates America to speak with them I think is so wrong.”
Philadelphia Police officers also held a silent protest at the Daniel Faulkner memorial plaque at 13th and Locust streets at the same time the commencement took place. The officers said they wanted thirty minutes of silence to drown out Abu-Jamal’s voice.
“Mumia didn’t have a problem silencing Danny’s voice,” said Garry Bell, a friend of Daniel Faulkner. “Danny will never speak again. For 33 years now he’s been silent.”
Members of the Philadelphia Police community told NBC10 they don’t understand how the facts of the case were erased over time.
“There were four eyewitnesses,” said John McNesby of the Fraternal Order of Police. “There was a bullet found in Danny that matched his gun. He admitted it. I mean, there’s no question of guilt here. Why do they keep allowing him a forum to speak out?”
Goddard, a low-residency school where students, staff and faculty spend eight days on campus twice a year, holds 20 commencement ceremonies every year, so students in each degree program can individualize their graduations and choose their speaker.
The school, which has about 600 students, says the graduates chose Abu-Jamal as a way to "engage and think radically and critically.''
Goddard students design their own curriculums with faculty advisers and do not take tests or receive grades.