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Bittersweet ceremonies mark troubled times on US campuses

Walkouts, cancellations and threats to pro-Palestinian students mar commencement celebrations

By MINGMEI LI in New York | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-06-11 07:31

Hundreds of students walked out of the 2024 Commencement in Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to call attention to the plight of Palestinians on May 23. [Photo/Agencies]

Harvard walkout

More than 1,000 students walked out of Harvard University's commencement ceremony on the morning of May 23 attended by over 9,000 graduates and their families. Thirteen students who participated in a protest encampment were not allowed to take part in the ceremony after a vote the previous day by Harvard Corporation, the university's governing body. Faculty members had earlier recommended the 13 be allowed to receive their degrees despite participating in the encampment.

Even though the pro-Palestinian protest at Harvard's campus was voluntarily dismantled under an agreement reached by students and the school — seen as a peaceful resolution compared to other schools where police made arrests — tensions remained high.

"As our ceremony proceeds, some among us may choose to take the liberty of expressing themselves to draw attention to events unfolding in the wider world," Harvard's interim president Alan Garber said at the commencement ceremony.

"It is their right to do so," he stated, as he asked the crowd to observe a minute's silence.

However, Garber was loudly booed by students and some faculty members during his speech.

"This semester, our freedom of speech and expressions of solidarity became punishable, leaving our graduation uncertain," Shruthi Kumar, the undergraduate student speaker, said to cheers and applause, while acknowledging the students who had been barred from the ceremony.

Over 1,500 students had petitioned to allow the banned students to participate, and nearly 500 staff and faculty members had spoken on their behalf.

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