U.S.C. Cancels Its Main Graduation Ceremony, Citing Security Concerns

The University of Southern California announced on Thursday that it has canceled its main-stage graduation ceremony for students, a move that follows campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war and a controversy over its selection of a class valedictorian.

The university said that it could not host the ceremony, which was scheduled for May 10, because of new safety measures that would have increased the amount of time needed on the day to process the 65,000 students and guests who usually attend.

This week, the university has been rocked by turmoil by pro-Palestinian protesters, resulting in the arrests of more than 90 people.

It was the continuation of controversy on the Los Angeles campus that began in early April, when the university selected a Muslim valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, a biomedical engineering major from Chino Hills, Calif.

Following complaints from several Jewish organizations that Ms. Tabassum, who is of South Asian descent, had posted a social media link to a virulent pro-Palestinian organization, the university informed her that she would not be delivering the traditional valedictorian speech.

The university said the decision was based on a barrage of communications threatening to disrupt the graduation ceremony. But, in a statement, Ms. Tabassum voiced skepticism about the university’s motivation.

In making the announcement Thursday about the main stage cancellation, the university emphasized that other graduation events celebrating individual schools would continue. In those ceremonies, students cross the stage, are awarded their degrees and are photographed.

“We understand that this is disappointing,” the announcement said, “however, we are adding many new activities and celebrations to make this commencement academically meaningful.”

That did not appease many students.

“The cancellation of commencement? I think it’s cowardly,” said Layla MoheyEldin, a senior majoring in international relations and Middle East studies. Her high school graduation was scaled down because of the pandemic, and now she is losing her main college ceremony.

Last week, the university announced that speakers and honorees who had been scheduled to attend the main stage graduation, including the “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu and the tennis star Billie Jean King, would not be present.

Past speakers at the main ceremonies have included the actor Will Ferrell and the author Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Jonathan Wolfe contributed reporting.

Back to top button