What was supposed to be a celebration of achievement for many students at Millikin University took a sharp turn as an unexpected speech at the graduation ceremony unfolded.
The comments were made by Rev. Wally Carlson, who gave the invocation speech during the December event.
According to NBC affiliate station WAND, Carlson pretended to take a phone call from God during his speech.
"First of all, let's take care of the gender issue. He understands and he's sharing with you that there's no theological justification for it but he's choosing he and him today, doesn't like them and they and just because this is probably irritating enough people that it's coming out this way we're gonna stay away from she and her," Carlson reportedly stated.
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For many in the audience, the speech came as a surprise, including transgender graduates like Nat Long, who told WAND the ceremony felt "less like an achievement and more like an escape."
"I was just kind of sitting there like you know I was holding back tears," Long told the station. "I was trying not to get super upset because this isn't the first instance of transphobia that I've experienced directly at this school. I've had about three other incidents in the past year alone that have really not been good. So I really just wanted to celebrate my graduation but I felt like I really couldn't."
Millikin University told WAND in a statement that it "immediately issued an apology to all who attended" the commencement and said Carlson's comments "neither reflect nor represent the values of our university."
"We were not aware of his remarks prior to Commencement and were equally as surprised and disappointed by them," the statement read. "Going forward, Millikin will be certain to vet all prepared remarks for important events like Commencement. We are very sorry for the hurt this has caused and affirm our support for all members of the Millikin community."
Some students, however, say an apology is not enough.
"We keep getting lots of apologies but things aren't changing and we keep getting told that they are and apologies kind of get old when it keeps happening again and again and nothings actually being done," said student Katharine Baughmann.