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Rutgers University had to scramble to find a new commencement address speaker after Condoleezza Rice backed out amid protests. On Monday, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean was picked as her replacement, but the decision is still not without controversy. Eric LeGrand, the former football player who suffered a paralyzing injury, has said that he was approached, but was never told why he was not ultimately picked.
LeGrand told his 129,000 Twitter followers Monday that he was going to accept the invitation, “but they decided to go other ways for political reasons.”
Rutgers offered me the commencement speech this weekend and I was going to accept but they decided to go other ways for political reasons
— Eric LeGrand (@EricLeGrand52) May 6, 2014
Later, LeGrand spoke with the Asbury Park Press, saying that he had just planned to tell his inspiring story to the graduating class.
“I was just going to tell them my story, about the whole process,” LeGrand told the paper. “Starting in 2005, being recruited by Rutgers and what it meant to me to play here and go to school here. And then the way everybody supported me through my injury, I was just going to give inspirational words about how they should attack life. All the things I’ve learned so far. All the (graduates), they’re my age so I was going to try to (say) words they could remember, words that would inspire them to do great things in life.”
He said the offer came on Saturday, almost immediately after Rice dropped out. He received a call from Gregory Jackson, chief of staff for Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi. During the call, LeGrand was excited and they said they would discuss more details on Monday. However, on Monday, he heard that Kean was named Rice’s replacement.
“I’m very upset about it,” LeGrand said. “I was all excited all weekend thinking about what I was going to say. It’s rough.”
LeGrand said he wasn’t given any reasons for Kean getting picked over him. He recently earned his labor studies degree and wasn’t even planning on going to the ceremony until he was offered to speak. Now that he will not be giving a speech, he’s not sure any longer. “ I feel like they offered me, and then changed their mind. I don't know why,” he told the Asbury Park Press.
Rutgers President Robert Barchi announced that Kean would give the speech Monday, notes NJ.com.
“Gov. Kean is a national role model as a statesman who built bridges across partisan, racial, ethnic and ideological divides for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for the people he served,” Barchi said in a statement. “We are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address our graduates.”
Rutgers’ graduation ceremony is on May 18.