The Education Department chief, who is a staunch advocate for school vouchers, seemed to brush over the fact that HBCUs were established because black students were not permitted to attend white, segregated schools.
When DeVos came to the podium, her remarks were drowned out by a large chorus of boos.
As the crowd kept trying to shout her down, university president Edison Jackson briefly took over the microphone to lecture the students before she continued.
Previously, students and alumni had signed petitions, called for the university's president to resign, and even threatened to mail back their degrees in protest of the decision to invite DeVos to speak at the graduation. "Choose which way you want to go", he said.
Numerous standing graduates took their seats, but a few remained standing, prompting Jackson to implore them again to sit down.
Students were upset by the choice of DeVos, said Petra Merrick, a graduating senior who was editor of the college newspaper for the past two years. During the commencement speech at the historically black university, DeVos was showered with boos.
Critics say that statement showed just how out of touch DeVos is with some of the populations she serves as education secretary.
Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education.More news: Iran reformist drops out of election, supports Rouhani
The audience, however, remained unruly and kept heckling and booing her throughout the 20-minute speech. They're also opposed to her past negative remarks on public education, of which many Bethune-Cookman students are products. DeVos' nomination for the position was controversial straight from the beginning.
According to the Change.org site, the online petition had collected more than 8,000 signatures.
During the ceremony, DeVos, U.S. Education Secretary, received an honorary doctorate degree from the school and was scheduled to speak for an hour as the official commencement speaker.
"They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater equality".
Students and alumni began voicing their displeasure as soon as DeVos was announced as the Daytona Beach, Florida, school's commencement speaker, on May 1.
Added Ingram, "If you want to have free speech, if you want to have a dialogue, if you want to learn, this is not the place for that. It's a monologue, so she's going to have a one-way opportunity to talk about her ideology". Faculty who were on stage with DeVos stood and applauded to signal their support.