USC hosts graduation celebration at LA Coliseum after canceling main commencement

Shayla Girardin Image
Friday, May 10, 2024
USC hosts graduation celebration at LA Coliseum
In lieu of its traditional main stage commencement ceremony, USC hosted a party of sorts for graduates at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- In lieu of its traditional main stage commencement ceremony, which was canceled amid campus pro-Palestine protests and an attempted encampment that led to 93 arrests, USC hosted a party of sorts for graduates Thursday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The "Trojan Family Graduate Celebration" included "drone shows, fireworks, surprise performances, the Trojan Marching Band, and a special gift just for the Class of 2024.

Each graduate was eligible to receive up to six tickets for the event.

The celebration replaced the usual commencement gathering in Alumni Park, where more than 60,000 people traditionally gather each year for the university's primary graduation event.

"I was disappointed when commencement got canceled, but then they announced this and I thought it was so great that I got to come out here and celebrate with my family in a different way," said Natalie Martinez, a USC graduate.

The night still provided a place for thousands of seniors to celebrate.

"It's not the same but with the circumstance, we have to respect everything going on around us," said Aditya Jalan. "Having said that, I think it's still a great ceremony."

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.

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."

Days later, 93 people were arrested following a daylong pro-Palestine protest and attempted occupation of Alumni Park, the traditional site of the main stage ceremony. Protesters -- like those in similar actions on college campuses nationwide -- demanded that the university divest from Israeli-tied organizations, cancel Israel-related study-abroad program and issue a public call for a permanent cease fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

The protest and mass arrests led to stepped-up security and limits on who could enter the campus. The next day, the university announced it was canceling the main stage commencement ceremony altogether.

"We understand that this is disappointing; however, we are adding many new activities and celebrations to make this commencement academically meaningful, memorable, and uniquely USC, including places to gather with family, friends, faculty, and staff, the celebratory releasing of the doves, and performances by the Trojan Marching Band," USC officials said at the time.

An investigation continued into the attack on pro-Palestinian protesters' encampment last week at Royce Quad at UCLA, which the chancellor of UCLA called "a truly despicable act."

In the weeks since, another pro-Palestine encampment was established in Alumni Park, and it was allowed to remain in place until early Sunday morning, when police moved in and dismantled it.

As a result, security was high as the university began its commencement events on Wednesday. Additional events are planned through Saturday.

In announcing the Coliseum celebration, university officials said they explored the possibility of simply moving the main stage commencement event to the stadium, but the facility was already booked. In fact, Thursday night's event will be in only a portion of the venue, prompting the limit on available tickets.

The bulk of USC's individual school commencement ceremonies will be Friday.

City News Service contributed to this report.