USC Cancels Commencement Amid Student Protests, Arrests Over Israel-Gaza Conflict

After 93 protest-related arrests Wednesday, the university says the event has become a safety concern for its 65,000 attendees

Pro-Palestine students march and hold signs as they protest the Israel-Hamas War on the campus of the University of Southern California
USC students protest the Israel-Hamas War on the campus (Credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images)

The University of Southern California canceled its annual main stage commencement event in light of continued student protests and unrest over the Israel-Gaza conflict in the Middle East.

The university determined that the May 10 event is a safety risk for its expected 65,000 attendees, officials said in their Thursday announcement.

“With the new safety measures in place this year, the time needed to process the large number of guests coming to campus will increase substantially,” the USC statement read. “As a result, 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 from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.”

However, all “traditional individual school commencement ceremonies where students cross the stage, have their names announced, are photographed and receive their diplomas” will go on as planned.

The university’s decision came as pro-Palestine student protests over Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza have taken the national stage. Demonstrations of varying degrees of magnitude and aggression have been present on college campuses across the country for months, with actions at Columbia University also coming under particular scrutiny this week.

Daylong protests at USC’s Alumni Park in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday led to 93 total arrests. Ongoing demonstrations in the park, which is the site of the school’s annual main stage commencement ceremony, largely stem from continued defiance of the school’s decision to pull valedictorian Asna Tabassum from speaking at commencement, again due to safety concerns.

USC provost Andrew Guzman said in an online letter on April 15 that “the discussion relating to the selection of our valedictorian has taken on an alarming tenor” as pro-Israel student groups accused the biomedical graduate of engaging with and spreading antisemitic rhetoric online.

Regarding its decision to cancel the main commencement altogether, USC said, “We understand that this is disappointing; however, we are adding many new activities and celebrations to make this commencement academically meaningful, memorable and uniquely USC, including places to gather with family, friends, faculty and staff, the celebratory releasing of the doves and performances by the Trojan Marching Band.”

Read more on the decision and changes to the May 10 schedule here.

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