Gov. Paul LePage apologized Wednesday for abruptly walking away from a University of Maine at Farmington building dedication ceremony a day earlier when two students held up signs critical of him.

LePage called the students “idiots” late Tuesday afternoon as he walked past the crowd on the way out of the event. The governor was a featured speaker at the dedication of the Theodora J. Kalikow Education Center, honoring the former UMF president.

In a statement Wednesday, LePage said he apologizes to UMF President Kathryn Foster, University of Maine System Chancellor James Page and Kalikow, who retired in 2012 after 18 years as UMF’s president.

“I am accustomed to daily attacks and ridicule from protesters, but most people are not,” LePage said in the statement. “Neither Theo, nor the people who were gathered to honor her, deserved for this heartfelt occasion to be disrespected by smug and self-serving protesters. If they wish to protest me, that’s fine: we all have the right to express our freedom of speech. But this event was not about me.”

LePage went on to say he was “sickened by the lack of respect displayed by two protesters holding up demeaning signs — including one with Theo’s name on it — during an event that was supposed to celebrate and honor a remarkable woman who has contributed so many years to improving education in Maine.”

LePage, who was a featured speaker at the event, had just stepped up to the lectern outside the education center around 4:15 p.m. Tuesday and started to speak when two students — Nickolas Bray and Allyson Hammond — held up the signs, one of which said, “LePage: Maine’s Shame.” The other sign was an environmental report card giving LePage an “F” and Kalikow an “A.”

The two students stood silently at the back and most in the crowd didn’t appear to see them holding the signs.

About 15 seconds into his remarks, LePage appeared to see the signs and to have trouble delivering his remarks. Then, after 45 seconds of speaking he said, “I’m sorry, I’m done,” and walked out in front of the lectern and through the back of the audience, saying, “Thank you, you idiots out back there with the signs.”

LePage’s statement Wednesday said he was “heckled” by the two students, even though the students never spoke and stood silently holding the signs.

Hammond, in a Facebook post after LePage’s statement Wednesday, said she wasn’t interested in an apology from the governor and “his opinion of me isn’t really relevant here.”

Hammond also took issue with LePage’s statement pointing out that Kalikow’s name was on the environmental report card sign. “How ridiculous, when her name being on it was only used to honor her respect for the environment,” she posted on Facebook.

LePage, in his statement, also criticized members of the news media who have “flocked to events where I have been asked to speak, not to cover any good news about the events, but to disparage me over issues totally unrelated to the events.”

“Since I am such a distraction to the media, I will no longer attend some of these public events. I sincerely hope the media will continue to attend these events and report on the good people of Maine and the many positive things they are doing for our state,” LePage said.

April Mulherin, a spokeswoman for UMF, said Wednesday that Foster was not available for comment on the governor’s statement because of previously scheduled events and that no one else was available for comment.

Dan Demeritt, spokesman for the University of Maine System, said Page had no comment on LePage’s statement and he noted Foster’s emailed statement Tuesday night after the incident that said: “The University of Maine at Farmington is focused today on celebrating former president Theo Kalikow’s service to our university, its students and the people of Maine. We are pleased to dedicate the Theodora J. Kalikow Education Center in honor of her many accomplishments and that so many past and present members of the UMF community were able to join us at today’s ceremony.”