The inside of the auditorium generally reflected that sentiment. The students were alert during every speech, seemingly waiting for cues to chime in. When Rick Santorum said Hillary Clinton’s name, they chanted “Lock her up!” He mentioned CNN and they booed; when former President Barack Obama came up, his name got a similar response. One student, during a Q-and-A session, prefaced his question with a statement: “Hillary Clinton is not president!” The crowd erupted in cheers.
Some speakers fed into the rowdy vibes, joining the crowd in disparaging one liberal figure or another. The New York Times reported that Sessions, for one, laughed during a round of “Lock her up!”
The auditorium was dimly lit, and anonymous shouts came from islands across the room. When the president of the Heritage Foundation discussed building bridges with those on the left, a young man in the front yelled, “And a wall!” While several students I met in the lobby were looking for engaging intellectual conversation, the ones in the auditorium seemed more interested in Trump-rally-style eruptions. Dave Rubin, the host of The Rubin Report, a talk show and podcast, remarked that it felt like “Twitter in real life.”
This was the energy in the room when DeVos took the stage. It had already been quite a day for the secretary. Her department had issued its proposed changes to the “borrower defense” rule—an Obama-era regulation that helped students defrauded by their colleges receive debt relief. And on Capitol Hill, a reauthorization of the law governing more than $1 billion in grants to states for career and technical education—which received bipartisan support—had just been passed and was headed to the president’s desk. Neither of those topics came up during her roughly 30 minutes onstage.
Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, and Turning Point’s director of high-school outreach, introduced the secretary. The students in the audience had spent the entire day being primed to boil over in bursts of teenage energy. But during DeVos’s relatively tame speech, the outbursts were few and far between. She opened by talking about gun violence, and the Federal Commission on School Safety. “School safety is not a partisan issue. It is about protecting students' lives. Your lives,” she said. And then she launched into a familiar monologue about batting down a “one size fits all” approach to education in favor of expanded school choice.
DeVos says there’s one thing her school-safety commission won't be studying: guns.
Then came an interview with Charlie Kirk, who lavished praise on the secretary for her accomplishments—both personal and as a member of the administration—before lobbing a handful of questions her way: What does school choice mean? How should we be thinking of education after high school? How have her private successes helped with her work at the department? DeVos answered the last question by noting that the private and public sectors are quite different, and that she hadn’t been aware just how “formidable” the bureaucracy was in the Department of Education.