Embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam will be skipping commencement ceremonies for a variety of university’s in his state, including his alma mater the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), in the wake of a racist photo controversy that rocked his office earlier this year.
A Northam spokesperson confirmed to CBS News on Tuesday that Northam would not be attending or delivering any speeches this spring “in order to ensure that commencements remain focused on celebrating graduates, their families, and their achievements.” The spokesperson noted that the decision was made “several weeks ago.” It came after a racist photo in Northam’s medical school yearbook page surfaced in February. At the same time, CBS News also uncovered a page from Northam’s yearbook from his time at VMI that listed nicknames underneath his name. One of them was “Coonman,” considered to be a racial slur. He later admitted to darkening his face on a single occasion in 1984.
Northam graduated from VMI in 1981 and previously spoke at the institute’s convocation while serving as the state’s lieutenant governor. The governor delivered last year’s commencement address for Virginia Tech.
The Roanoke Times first reported that Northam would no longer be addressing the graduates of VMI at their commencement after it was announced he would do so in December.
Northam said he had considered resigning in the wake of the controversy, but told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King he’s “not going anywhere.”
“You know, I don’t live in a vacuum. And so yes, I have heard it,” Northam said, referring to calls for his resignation. “I have thought about resigning, but I’ve also thought about what Virginia needs right now. And I really think that I’m in a position where I can take Virginia to the next level.”
The governor said in an interview with The Washington Post that he would instead spend the remainder of his term working toward advancing racial equality.