Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state and adviser to President George W. Bush, has withdrawn her decision to deliver the commencement address at Rutgers University on May 18 because of protests from students and teaching staff objecting to her role in the Iraq War.

Rutgers President Robert Barchi confirmed Saturday that Rice was declining the invitation she had previously accepted.

“While Rutgers University stands fully behind the invitation to Dr. Rice to be our commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree, we respect the decision she made and clearly articulated in her statement this morning,” Barchi said in a two-paragraph bulletin addressed to the university community.

Rice said she chose not to participate because she did not want to distract attention from an event honoring student accomplishments.

“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” Rice said in a statement. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”

As protests began recently, university officials declined to withdraw the invitation to Rice, who is now a professor of political science at Stanford University.

Initially, Rutgers officials defended the decision to invite Rice and pay her a $35,000 speaking fee, saying the university is a place of open debate.

Rice said she was proud of her record and has always “defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas.” Rutgers’ president concluded his statement Saturday with a call for the university community to come together.

“Now is the time to focus on our commencement, a day to celebrate the accomplishments and promising futures of our graduates,” he said. “We look forward to joining them and their families on May 18.”

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