Sacramento publisher booed during college graduation speech

The Associated Press
Monday December 17, 2001

SACRAMENTO – A Sacramento publisher’s commencement speech was drowned out by hecklers after she began speaking about threats to civil liberties posed by the federal government’s investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Janis Besler Heaphy, president and publisher of The Sacramento Bee, was delivering the mid-year graduation address at California State University in Sacramento on Saturday. She was interrupted for five minutes by the audience, which began clapping and stomping. 

The heckling began after Heaphy raised questions about racial profiling, limits on civil rights and the establishment of military tribunals. 

University President Don Gerth tried to quiet the audience, but Heaphy stopped speaking after more loud heckling erupted about three-quarters of the way through her eight-minute speech. 

Heaphy told The Sacramento Bee afterward that the hecklers were merely blaming the messenger. 

“This was a message about civil liberties and our acceptance of differing points of view in American society,” she said. “It’s a message that needs to continue to be heard.” 

Gerth said he was upset by the interruption, blaming it on students’ family members and friends in the audience. He said some students approached Heaphy after the ceremony to apologize. 

“Our students have a right to hear our speaker,” Gerth said. “I have never seen behavior like this. It is a day I will never forget. I am not proud of it.” 

Heaphy said the outbursts did not change her opinion and she plans to continue to voice her concerns about potential civil liberties violations. 

“When the university invited me to speak, I thought about what to say. I decided that the message should be one that emphasizes the need to continue to embrace the traditions of liberty that are at the core of American democracy,” she said. “Nothing that happened (Saturday) changes my mind for the need to continue to articulate those values.” 

Gerth said it was the university’s largest graduation crowd ever. The Arco Arena was packed Saturday and can hold more than 17,000 people. 

Heaphy’s speech will be posted in its entirety Monday on the university’s Web site, Gerth said.