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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

Police clash with pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the Shrine Auditorium, where a commencement ceremony for graduates from Pomona College was being held on May 12, in Los Angeles. [Photo/Agencies]

Visual dissent

The graduates not only wore gowns and caps but also donned kaffiyeh scarves, carried signs, and waved Palestinian flags to call for further divestment by Columbia and to express their anger over the police arrests.

Tarsis Salome, a Columbia social work graduate student, can be seen in a video walking on stage with zip ties on her hands and tearing up a diploma during her graduation ceremony.

At other schools, students came up with other ways during commencement ceremonies to condemn what they considered the inaction of university officials.

New York University held its all-school commencement ceremony at Yankee Stadium on May 15 as scheduled. However, students walked out of the ceremony when NYU president Linda Mills gave her address to the graduates.

While Mills urged being open to people with "whom you might not usually agree", she did not directly address the ongoing tension between the school and students, despite having authorized the arrests of scores of protesters at an encampment set up at Gould Plaza and 14 student protesters outside another encampment at the Paulson Center.

"What would it look like to stretch and to bridge, to learn from those you might otherwise judge, even reject? Today, as we face a world of war and polarization, this is as important as ever," Mills said, adding there is "enduring desire to be open to those most unlike us".

Outside the stadium, students lined up in the rain to enter the stadium, with only two gates open and increased security measures in place.

"I got there around 9:30… it was about 12 o'clock when we ultimately got in," an international relations graduate at NYU, who identified himself as Sammer, told China Daily. He said that despite the "logistics" issue, everything else was great, and he had a good time celebrating with his family.

"This is my first time doing an all-university commencement in person," he said, noting that his undergraduate ceremony was canceled due to COVID-19 precautionary measures.

"It is a time when people are challenging a lot of the institutions we have in place here in the US," he said, adding that he will continue to watch how the protests unfold over the summer and the actions of the students.

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