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School board member demands Sasse apologize for 'despicable' graduation speech

The Hill logo The Hill 5/19/2020 Justine Coleman
Ben Sasse wearing a suit and tie: School board member demands Sasse apologize for 'despicable' graduation speech © Greg Nash School board member demands Sasse apologize for 'despicable' graduation speech

A school board member for Fremont Public Schools demanded that Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) apologize for his "despicable" graduation speech over the weekend.

Michael Petersen in a Saturday Facebook post told graduates that they "deserved better" than Sasse's online graduation remarks. The Nebraska senator during the commencement for Fremont High School made a joke-filled speech, which included criticism of China for its management of the coronavirus.

"The racism, implying that our graduates are fat and lazy, disparaging teachers, and attacking the mental health profession are despicable," Petersen wrote. "You owe the graduating students of Fremont High an apology."

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In his 8-minute speech, which he delivered virtually, Sasse made remarks about China while talking about the impact of the pandemic on Nebraska.

"It's hit our state hard. It's probably hit your family. It's hit our whole country, and nobody knows exactly how we're going to beat this thing. But you know what? We're Americans. We're Nebraskans. We've got grit, and we're gonna beat this thing," he said in the address.

"We're going to have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it," he continued.

Sasse offered his "congratulations to parents, teachers and coaches" but added that "there's really any meaningful distinction among those categories anymore at this point. If you're a parent, you're a teacher. Thanks a lot, China. We're all teachers now."

The Nebraska senator also made jokes, including one in which he said graduates will be asked to climb ropes in life.

"If you don't get that joke, talk to your mom and dad," he said. "Back in the day, when we were a lot fitter than you people are, we used to have to climb ropes all the way up to the ceiling of the gym."

Sasse also said that "95 percent of all gainfully employed psychologists ... their job is really just to help people forget high school" before encouraging students not to major in psychology.

"That part's not a joke," he said.

Fremont Public Schools released a joint statement from Superintendent Mark Shepard and Board of Education President Sandi Proskovec saying the district did not "edit or censor" guest speakers.

"We have received feedback on parts of the ceremony and would like to share some information for clarity in regard to the speeches by our guests," they said. "The words spoken belong to the individual that said them, not the school district."

Sasse spokesman James Wegmann cited a statement provided to The Hill on Sunday.

"Like he said in the video greeting, Ben's proud of each of the graduates - and he believes their generation is tough enough to help lead us through the bumpy economic times ahead. It's ridiculous that Chris Janicek and the Nebraska Democratic Party are complaining about Ben calling out China in a joke and are using it to fundraise," he said.

"Ben's said this for months, because it's true: The Chinese Communist Party's coronavirus coverup wasted time that could have contained the spread - those lies cost innocent lives in China and around the world. Pretending graduates are too fragile to hear the truth is silly," Wegmann added.

The senator's comments come two months after he asked Twitter to remove the Chinese Communist Party from the social media platform, saying it was "waging a massive propaganda campaign to rewrite the history of COVID-19 and whitewash the Party's lies to the Chinese people and the world."


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