USC begins graduation ceremonies after pro-Palestinian protests, campus unrest

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Thursday, May 9, 2024
After pro-Palestinian protests, USC begins graduation ceremonies
Additional ceremonies are planned for the rest of the week, with the bulk of the individual school events planned on Friday.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Four days of commencement celebrations began Wednesday at USC following weeks of campus unrest that was highlighted by the arrest of 93 protesters who attempted to occupy Alumni Park, leading to the university's cancellation of its annual main stage graduation ceremony.

Graduation celebrations began at 8:30 a.m. with a series of doctoral hooding ceremonies at various campus locations, along with a variety of other commencement activities throughout the day.

Additional ceremonies are planned for the rest of the week, with the bulk of the individual school events planned on Friday.

"My parents flew in from Peru and of course, it would've been nice to have that big celebration," said USC student Enrique Perez, who's graduating this year.

The traditional main stage ceremony, which had been scheduled for Friday and annually attracts more than 60,000 people to Alumni Park, was scrubbed last month amid campus unrest.

In its place, there will be a "Trojan Family Graduate Celebration" at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. University officials said the event will include "drone shows, fireworks, surprise performances, the Trojan Marching Band, and a special gift just for the Class of 2024."

Each graduate will be eligible to receive up to six tickets for the event. Tickets will be required for entry to that celebration and all commencement events as security remains heightened.

Turmoil over the commencement activities began last month following the selection of Asna Tabassum as this year's class valedictorian. Her pro-Palestine views led to complaints from some critics who contended that some of her postings on social media were antisemitic -- claims she has denied. The university responded by announcing that Tabassum would not be permitted to make a speech at the main stage commencement ceremony -- a move the university's provost insisted was done solely over safety concerns.

Asna Tabassum - USC's 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians - is speaking out after the university canceled her commencement speech, citing safety concerns.

That decision, however, prompted an uproar of its own, with groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations calling it an act of cowardice aimed at silencing a pro-Palestinian viewpoint.

With the uproar intensifying, the university then canceled all "outside speakers" at the main stage ceremony, and canceled plans to bestow any honorary degrees at the event. Filmmaker Jon M. Chu had been scheduled to be the main commencement speaker. Honorary degrees were expected to be presented to Chu, National Endowment for the Arts Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, tennis legend Billie Jean King and National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt.

The university said it will "confer these honorary degrees at a future commencement or other academic ceremonies."

USC faculty censure university president, provost over protest response

USC's Academic Senate, which represents the university's faculty, formally censured USC President Carol Folt and Provost Andrew Guzman Wednesday over their handling of dramatic changes in commencement activities and other responses to campus protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.

According to the Daily Trojan campus newspaper, the senate voted 21-7 in favor of the censure, with six members abstaining.

The censure cited "widespread dissatisfaction and concern'' regarding decisions made by Folt and Guzman surrounding commencement activities and the pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

The Academic Senate also called for the creation of a task force to investigate and prepare a report on the decisions made by university administrators surrounding the issue, the paper reported.

In a statement, Folt responded. "I understand there are many different viewpoints among members of the Trojan Community regarding our recent decisions. I'm committed to working with the Academic Senate, and the wider faculty who weren't present at today's session."

On-campus protests continue

Protests and rallies at the USC campus continue, even if the encampment is long gone.

On Wednesday, a Christian musician, who's been organizing rallies like this at colleges across the country the last few weeks, held a Pro-Israel rally.

"I feel like this is a very important issue for Christians today in America, and I feel like we need to be on the right side of this issue and stand with the nation of Israel," he said.

The march was not on campus, but was close to celebrating students nearby. Graduating seniors, trying to block out the seemingly endless distractions, are disappointed by they're getting a different graduation celebration.

"Everybody wanted to have some sort of commencement, and, I mean, it's not the end of the world that we don't have it. I mean, I'm still graduating and I'm grateful to have the degree, but of course, it would have been nice to have that celebration."

City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.