On Monday (March 30), Kean announced that the Oscar-winning MC would speak at this year's graduation ceremony and reneged on the offer a day later. “Commencement speaker not official yet. Stay tuned,” read a post from the school’s Twitter account.
The upset stems from “A Song for Assata” off Common’s 15-year-old album Like Water for Chocolate. On the track, Common pays homage to Assata Shakur, who was convicted in 1977 for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster.
Shakur, whose birth name is Joanne Chesimard, denied killing the officers, escaped prison and fled to Cuba, where she has lived for more than 30 years. Despite improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the country recently refused to extradite Shakur back to the state.
Chris Burgos, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, called the Common selection a “slap in the face” given the Shakur angle. “What is troubling here is that a state university that is subsidized with state taxpayer funds, is once again being questioned on their decision-making at the highest levels,” he said in a emailed statement.
A spokeswoman for the university later explained that students wanted Common. "The students expressed interest in Common because he composed the Oscar-winning song 'Glory' with our prior commencement speaker John Legend," Susan Kayne, spokeswoman for the university, said. "While we respect his talent, Kean is pursuing other speaker options."
Common hasn’t commented on the controversy.
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