SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (search) return to his alma mater turned into an exercise in perseverance when virtually his every word was accompanied by catcalls, howls and piercing whistles from the crowd.
Schwarzenegger's face appeared to redden during his 15-minute commencement address Tuesday to 600 graduates at Santa Monica College (search), but he ignored the shouting as he recalled his days as a student and, later, his work as a bodybuilder and actor.
"Always go all out and overcome your fears," he told the graduates. "Work, work, work. Study, study, study."
Inside the stadium, the drone from hundreds of rowdy protesters threatened to drown out the governor's voice at times. Many in the crowd erupted in boos when a police officer pulled down a banner criticizing the estimated $45 million cost of the Nov. 8 special election (search) that Schwarzenegger proposed Monday.
The governor is backing three ballot initiatives that call for imposing a cap on state spending, stripping lawmakers of the power to draw their own districts and increasing the time it takes teachers to gain tenure.
At times during Schwarzenegger's speech, cheers and boos mingled, and the graduates themselves appeared eager to hear the governor. Many applauded at one point when the noise from the bleachers briefly subsided.
"It didn't matter. I just ignored them," graduate Ray Lewis, 21, of Los Angeles, said when asked about the racket from protesters. Schwarzenegger's "political views and all that had nothing to do with the graduation," Lewis said.
Schwarzenegger has been feuding for months with groups he calls "special interests" — teachers, nurses and other public employee unions who accuse him of selling out to big business while shortchanging education, health care and other programs. Those groups have hounded Schwarzenegger at his public appearances.
The special election "is a waste of money that you could be using for education, hospital care. He's wasting it on his vanity election," said Sue Cannon, a nurse who was among the crowd outside the stadium.
About two dozen Schwarzenegger supporters also rallied outside the stadium. One of them, Ben Eisenberg, who heads the Santa Monica College Republicans, said the ceremony "should be about the students."
Schwarzenegger left the stage almost immediately after his speech, speeding across the infield in a golf cart surrounded by sprinting security guards. Across the field, he pulled up toward a waiting SUV and a large steel gate was closed behind him.
Schwarzenegger took general studies classes at the two-year community college between 1970 and 1974. He later took correspondence courses through the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where he earned a degree in 1979.