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Mumia Abu-Jamal to give college commencement speech

Convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal has been selected as the commencement speaker for a Vermont college.

Goddard College announced that the infamous inmate will address its graduates at Sunday's ceremony.

Undergraduate students receiving their degrees selected Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker, the Plainfield, Vt., school said.

Abu-Jamal was convicted in the 1981 slaying of Officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death. The high-profile and long-running case was in the news for decades as Abu-Jamal fought the death penalty; the sentence was later reduced to life in prison without parole.

Goddard said Abu-Jamal's speech was prerecorded by Prison Radio.

The college says it holds 20 commencement ceremonies each year so students in each degree program can have personalized graduations.

"As a reflection of Goddard's individualized and transformational educational model, our commencements are intimate affairs where each student serves as her or his own valedictorian, and each class chooses its own speaker," Goddard College Interim President Bob Kenny said in a statement. "Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that."

Goddard said Abu-Jamal received a bachelor of arts degree from the college in 1996. He completed this coursework there by mail, according to the Burlington Free Press.

Abu-Jamal has given commencement speeches at other colleges. Both his 1999 speech to graduates of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and 2000 address for Antioch College's commencement in Yellow Springs, Ohio, sparked outrage and protests from police officers, prosecutors, and Faulkner's family.

The speech is the second time Abu-Jamal has been in the news this month: A lawyer who was nominated to lead the Justice Department's civil rights division withdrew from consideration due to controversy about his involvement in Abu-Jamal's case.

Debo Adegbile's nomination to the post drew criticism because he reviewed legal briefs in the case when he led the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, which was fighting prosecutors' efforts to reinstate Abu-Jamal's death sentence. Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr L.L.P announced this month that Adegbile was joining the high-profile law firm as a partner.