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Will They Walk? Uncertainty Looms Over Graduation Ceremonies Amidst Campus Protests

The sadness continues to pile on for high school students from the class of 2020 who are now

college students in the class of 2024. First it was the pandemic that caused hundreds of high

schools nationwide to cancel in-person graduations four years ago. Now a new threat has

emerged–student pro-Palestian protests that could affect commencement ceremonies for

colleges and universities this year.

Hundreds of students have been arrested nationwide over demonstrations and encampments

on university campuses. From coast to coast, school officials have called on law enforcement to

disperse the uprisings. One school particularly affected is Columbia University in New York.

Protestors have set up camp at the center of that school’s graduation ceremony location. USC

has already canceled its main graduation ceremony, and other schools may do the same. Some

responses have been violent, as when Georgia officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a

group of protesters at Emory University. Police at The Ohio State University arrested 36

students at a pro-Palestine rally. There were 57 arrests at the University of Texas at Austin,

though all of the students were later released. So far, no deaths have been reported as the

result of any protest.

UC Berkeley is no stranger to protests–going back to the days of the Vietnam War in the late

‘60s. It brings back memories of similar campus protests in the past. But there are some

differences. Students today are using largely calm and non-violent tactics like “sit-ins,”

according to historian Angus Johnston of the City University of New York.

So what do the students want? Ultimately, they are looking for divestment of their school’s

financial relationships with Israeli military and the nation’s companies, similar to what happened

in the 1980s when more than 150 colleges divested from firms that profited or supported

apartheid in South Africa. It led to the passage in Congress of a divestment policy in 1986

against the South African government–including economic sanctions. The student protests

weren’t the only reason for the action–but the attention they brought to the issue was certainly a

large contributing factor.

A Pew Research Center poll shows there’s a major divide between young and old generations

about the Israeli Gaza war. Pew says one-third of Americans under age 30 sympathize more

with the Palestinians, while 14 percent sympathize with the Israelis. By comparison, 47 percent

of adults 65 and older have more sympathy with the Israelis, compared to just 9 percent with the


Some schools are actually working with the protestors to calm down the heat. Axios reports that

not all schools are having students arrested, and are even meeting with leaders of the uprising

to discuss the issues.

This all leads to what happens to this year’s graduation ceremonies? That question remains up

in the air right now–leaving students and their families wondering if, once again, they’ll miss out

on a cap and gown ceremony.


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