USC calls off ceremony after Gaza protests and cancellation of valedictorian speech

University of Southern California criticised for not allowing Muslim student to speak at graduation

Students hold up a photo of University of Southern California valedictorian Asna Tabassum during a protest against her cancelled commencement speech. AP
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The University of Southern California on Thursday announced it would not hold its main commencement event this year because of “new safety measures”, amid anti-war campus protests and after the valedictorian speech by its Muslim valedictorian was cancelled.

“We will not be able to host the main stage ceremony that traditionally brings 65,000 students, families and friends to our campus all at the same time and during a short window,” the university said in a statement.

USC said it would continue to hold its traditional school commencement ceremonies where “students have their names announced, are photographed and receive their diplomas”.

It appears to be the first US higher educational institution to have adjusted or cancelled commencement amid the nationwide protest movement over the Israel-Gaza war, which has gained momentum over the past week.

Students are protesting against Israel's war in Gaza, calling on schools to cut financial ties with companies connected to Israel and demand a ceasefire.

More than 90 people were arrested at a protest on the USC Los Angeles campus on Wednesday, and the school has since introduced limits on entry.

USC has received backlash over its decision not to allow this year's valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, to speak during commencement because of claimed security concerns.

Ms Tabassum, who is Muslim, minored in genocide studies and has shared pro-Palestinian comments on social media, which some campus groups have called anti-Semitic.

“Because I am not aware of any specific threats against me or the university, because my request for the details underlying the university’s threat assessment has been denied, and because I am not being provided any increased safety to be able to speak at commencement, there remain serious doubts about whether USC’s decision to revoke my invitation to speak is made solely on the basis of safety,” she said last week.

The school has since seen protests calling for Ms Tabassum to be allowed to speak.

The director behind the Crazy Rich Asians movie, John Chu, and tennis star Billie Jean King had also been scheduled to speak at the ceremony, but their speeches were also cancelled.

USC cancels Muslim valedictorian's speech due to security concerns

USC cancels Muslim valedictorian's speech due to security concerns
Updated: April 25, 2024, 11:20 PM