CONWAY — There was no booing Saturday for U.S. Sen. Tim Scott at Coastal Carolina University.
There was no jeering. Except for less than half-a-dozen protesters on the street outside, there were few signs that nearly 600 students and faculty had petitioned against Scott’s role as commencement speaker just a week before.
Instead, Scott was greeted with applause. His jokes received laughs and his speech, which lasted a little more than 10 minutes, was well received.
Jenna Miller, a marine science graduate, said she liked Scott’s speech and appreciated that he kept it short with the understanding that graduates anxiously were waiting to cross the stage for their diplomas.
Some students, like Erika Moreno, had said last week that they were planning to protest.
If they did, however, it was hidden in a sea of polyester and muted by celebrations of hard-earned degrees.
Moreno interns locally at a rape crisis center and said she sees the aftermath of violence against women. That’s why she had said she planned to wear a T-shirt with Scott’s name crossed out to graduation.
Almost 600 students and faculty members signed an online petition before Saturday’s ceremonies saying they didn’t want Scott to be this year’s speaker at the graduation because he voted against the Violence Against Women Act as a representative of a state that consistently has one of the nation’s highest rates of domestic violence.
Scott wasn’t alone in his “no” vote.
The state’s other senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, voted no, as did S.C. Republican House members Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney and Joe Wilson. Tom Rice, who represents the 7th District in Congress including the Grand Strand, also voted against reauthorizing act.
Opponents of the act cited constitutional and funding concerns, and also balked when protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were added.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, voted for it.
The act passed the Senate and House with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Obama earlier this year.
First passed in 1994, the act’s reauthorization includes protection for American Indians, gays and lesbians and immigrant women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Experts have said it has been crucial in helping bring down rates of violence against women. It was reauthorized twice without controversy or much discussion.
“As the son of a single mother, I strongly believe we must do everything in our power to protect women from domestic violence,” Scott said in February. “While I was unable to support the current bill because of special carve outs, vague language and a one-size-fits-all approach, I strongly supported amendments to strengthen the legislation and address those issues.”
Scott did not address his vote during his speech. Instead, he took his time on stage to give the graduating class three pieces of advice.
He told them that failure can be good.
“Everything doesn’t always work out as planned,” he said. “Failure is only fatal if you quit.”
Scott said that standing out in a crowd requires standing up for someone who can’t, and material and financial possessions don’t matter as much as giving back to others.
Finally, he suggested the graduates take risks.
“If you’re going to maximize the person you were created to be, you’re going to have to exit your comfort zone,” Scott said.