Graduation Can’t Stop These Students From Protesting

Jessica Christian/Getty Images
Jessica Christian/Getty Images

Classes may be over but student protests showed no signs of stopping this weekend as hundreds of graduates from California to Virginia continued to demonstrate against Israel’s war in Gaza, as it appears poised to enter its most deadly stage.

Demonstrations were peaceful and minimally disruptive, a stark contrast to the violent arrests of students that university leaders had sometimes facilitated in previous weeks. Police intervention was nearly non-existent on Friday and Saturday’s demonstrations.

On Saturday, pro-Palestine protesters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison booed Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin during her speech at the commencement ceremony in the school’s football stadium. Rachel Hale, a UW student journalist and graduating senior, shared a photo from the ground that appeared to show a group of students holding up a Palestinian flag in protest.

The Wisconsin demonstration took observers by surprise, as the university had reached a deal with protesters the day before to avoid disruptions at “this weekend’s graduation ceremonies or other campus functions,” according to a university message. Now that the terms of the agreement appear to have been violated, the protesters may face disciplinary action. Kelly Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for the university, said the ceremony was “not interrupted” by the small protest.

“As we indicated, we will be addressing any potential conduct violations,” Tyrrell told The Daily Beast.

Meanwhile, at the historically protest-heavy University of California in Berkeley, protesters enacted a wave of demonstrations at the university-wide commencement Saturday morning. As Chancellor Carol Christ welcomed graduates and guests, a few students stood up, waved Palestinian flags, and started singing, “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has got to go,” the Bay Area Mercury News reported.

Officials paused the speeches to warn protesters they’d be kicked out if they didn’t quiet down, and Christ was able to finish her speech. But the demonstrations continued as hundreds of students marched over to a section of the bleachers near the stage, stomping as they cheered, “Free, free Palestine.”

Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley’s Assistant Vice Chancellor for Communications, said the protesters left voluntary and no one was arrested.

“UC Berkeley strives to celebrate the achievements of our graduates in a safe and respectful environment,” Mogulof said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “While today’s commencement was, at times, unfortunately disrupted, it did not prevent us from honoring the hard work and accomplishments of our students.”

Across the country, graduates of Virginia Commonwealth University walked out of their commencement ceremony during a speech by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, both in support of Palestine and to protest the governor’s anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Black history policies. Some of the protesters wore keffiyehs, and others held signs that read “Teach Black History” and “Book Bans ≠ Respect For Learning,” The Washington Post reported.

This weekend’s protests continued a nationwide trend of student demonstrations at graduation, which began last week at the University of Michigan and a few other schools.

On Saturday, as commencement protests continued, Israel ordered new evacuations as it pressed its offensive into the border city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering with virtually nowhere left to go. The Israeli military has characterized the attack as a targeted operation to take out Hamas militants. The United Nations has warned the offensive would cripple humanitarian efforts in a region where famine is imminent and hospitals run on reserve fuel.

The U.N.’s food agency said it was projected to run out of food for southern Gaza by Saturday afternoon, a U.N. agency official told the Associated Press.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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