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Mumia Abu-Jamal Gives College Commencement Speech From Prison

Mumia Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. His speech, delivered via video, for Vermont's Goddard College on Sunday inspired controversy.

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Mumia Abu-Jamal once faced a death sentence for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer, and on Sunday he encouraged the graduating class of Goddard College to make the world better.

AFP / Getty Images TOM MIHALEK

Abu-Jamal spoke via prerecorded video to students at the Vermont college, which he first attended in the 1970s and where he earned his degree in 1996. The nontraditional college features individualized programs without exams or grades, and students and faculty only spend eight days on campus twice a year. About 20 students attended Sunday's commencement.

In his speech, Abu-Jamal did not discuss the crime for which he earned the death sentence in 1981. He was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2011 for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The New York Times has referred to Abu-Jamal as "perhaps the world's best known death-row inmate."

In his address, he encouraged students to make the world better.

"Think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better," Abu-Jamal said in the video.

He added that what he learned at the college allowed him to mentally leave death row. College officials said graduates chose Abu-Jamal to "engage and think radically and critically."

The choice was a controversial one, and Pennsylvania Republicans said they would work on a bill to limit convicted killers' public speech.

Allowing a convicted murderer to speak at Commencement is wrong. Press event tomorrow. http://t.co/RBwiipCYqe #rememberthevictim

PA House Republicans@PAHouseGOPFollow

Allowing a convicted murderer to speak at Commencement is wrong. Press event tomorrow. http://t.co/RBwiipCYqe #rememberthevictim

3:18 PM - 05 Oct 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

Police and corrections officers in Pennsylvania and Vermont also spoke out against the speech.

Silent vigil for slain Phila Police Ofc Daniel Faulkner murdered 1981. #MumiaAbuJamal speaking @ VT college via video

Kenneth Moton@KennethMotonFollow

Silent vigil for slain Phila Police Ofc Daniel Faulkner murdered 1981. #MumiaAbuJamal speaking @ VT college via video

1:08 PM - 05 Oct 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

We have created a space for people, like Mumia and our thousands of students and alumni/ae around the world, who have tremendous obstacles to their educational ambitions to unshackle their dreams and achieve their goals. We have created an incubator for thinkers, artists, healers, activists and writers who have decided not to allow their brilliance to be diminished nor snuffed out behind the walls of any form of prison—real or metaphoric.
It is my opinion that all murderers should forfeit their right to free speech when they take the life of an innocent person...Shame on Goddard College and all associated with that school for choosing to honor an arrogant, remorseless killer as their commencement speaker. Unfortunately, this is something that I am certain they will be proud of for the rest of their lives.

Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Claudia Koerner at claudia.koerner@buzzfeed.com.

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