Despite a growing antiwar mood on college campuses across the country, President Bush can expect more cheers than heckles Saturday as he addresses 1,500 students and their families at Miami Dade College's commencement.
Miami Dade, a commuter college whose graduates are 77 percent Hispanic -- the largest contingent among them Cuban American -- cre- ates a friendlier political envi- ronment for Bush than he might have faced at many four-year universities.
Bush's visit coincides with rallies planned around the country by war protesters calling for Congress to impeach him. Protesters plan- ning an "unwelcoming party'' for the president on the perimeter of the Kendall cam- pus, where Bush will speak at the gymnasium, say they will not disrupt the 5 o'clock cere- mony, though some alumni and faculty have signed a petition decrying the invita- tion.
Students have been less vocal than those at some other campuses.
"This is a commuter school," said Maria Mari, who teaches accounting and eco- nomics at MDC. "Students don't stick around'' to plan protests, she said.
Sen. Mel Martinez, a Cuban American and chairman of the Republican National Committee, put in a personal plug for MDC to Bush, who also will attend a GOP fund- raiser on Key Biscayne. Mar- tinez spoke at the Kendall campus graduation last year and said MDC President Eduardo Padron, who likes to call MDC "democracy's col- lege," asked for help landing the president.
MDC's diversity also will give Bush an opportunity to push an immigration agenda that is stalled in Congress.
"I never expected some- thing like this," said Ramon Gonzalez, 18, a criminal jus- tice major who is a first-year student. "I would expect the president to come to a big- time university like Yale."
Even faculty who oppose Bush's policies say they will do so quietly.
"On one level, it's obviously a coup'' to get Bush, said Dominic Brucato, a psychol- ogy professor who will wear a green and white ribbon dur- ing the ceremony to urge an end to the war in Iraq. "My hope is he can keep the speech free of politics."
A coalition of two dozen organizations say they will protest near the ceremony, and nearly 1,000 people have signed an online petition opposing his visit. Liberal groups around the country have dubbed Saturday "A28," for the April 28 anti-war ral- lies aimed at Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Local organizers are hoping for a strong turnout but can't promise one. "When they [protesters] actually show up, then you know that they're here," said organizer Shirley Alexiou.
Alexiou's husband, Jon, is a former Kendall campus col- lege president. She said her husband will not be joining her as she holds up a large impeach'' sign along Killian Parkway.
Brad Stocker, a Kendall campus professor since 1980, said he was disappointed by the tepid response to his invi- tation, through a faculty union e-mail, to a protest.
"As a liberal arts institution, you're supposed to discuss the issues of the day," said Stocker, who teaches English to nonnative speakers. There's a war happening. There's two wars happening."
At St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., the school presi- dent held a forum last week so the divided campus could discuss Bush's upcoming attendance at this year's grad- uation. At the traditionally conservative Brigham Young University in Utah, some stu- dents protested Thursday's appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney.
MDC is a different type of institution. Its typical stu- dents are older than at four year-colleges, with families and jobs. Add to that a gener- ally higher approval rating for Bush among Cuban Ameri- cans even as the president's national ratings sink.
HAPPY TO HAVE HIM
"The overwhelming major- ity, regardless of party affilia- tion, regardless of political beliefs, are just happy to have President Bush here," said Chris Miles, 17, the student government president, who will introduce the president. He graduates Saturday from a dual-enrollment program.
The White House staff chooses where the president speaks based on geography and the type of message he wants to deliver, said Univer- sity of Miami President Donna Shalala, who served under Bill Clinton for eight years. She said the symbolism of MDC, combined with Bush's popularity there, make it ideal.
Padron, a Democrat, said he invites the president every year regardless of who is in office. "It seems like, more and more, the nation is recog- nizing the role of community colleges in furthering the edu- cational agenda of this nation," he said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, who has an MDC license plate frame on her car, also pushes that message. She and her father and brother all graduated from the college. It's "phenomenal to have the president of the U.S. acknowl- edge the growth of MDC and the opportunities that it offers a diverse student body," she said.