USC Cancels Jon M. Chu’s Commencement Speech Following Protests Over Banned Valedictorian

Demonstrators wanted the school to reverse its decision to bar Muslim valedictorian Asna Tabassum from speaking as scheduled

Jon M. Chu attends the "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" World Premiere
Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Following days of protest over the University of Southern California’s decision to ban Muslim valedictorian Asna Tabassum from the school’s May 10 commencement, the school took the additional step Friday of canceling outside graduation speakers. Their featured speaker was set to be “Wicked” and “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu.

A memo shared on by USC noted, “to keep the focus on our graduates, we are redesigning the commencement program. Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year’s ceremony.”

On Monday, USC provost Andrew Guzman said in an online letter that “the discussion relating to the selection of our valedictorian has taken on an alarming tenor,” including speculation from those opposed to Tabassum, who is also pro-Palestine, that her speech would be “antisemitic.”

Guzman added that the input of “many voices outside of USC” about the issue were creating “substantial risks relating to security and disruption at commencement.”

By Wednesday, a petition by the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) to reverse USC’s decision to cancel the valedictorian’s graduation speech had been signed by more than 41,000 people.  

CAIR-LA executive director Hussam Ayloush called USC’s decision “cowardly” and said, “We call on the school to take a stand against anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim hate and create a safe environment on its campus — not just for Asna, but for all its students.”

Friday’s statement also said that, while the university was canceling plans to bestow honorary degrees at commencement this year, it “hope[s] to confer these honorary degrees at a future commencement or other academic ceremonies.”

The university stressed, “It is important that our full attention be on our remarkable graduates. We will be celebrating their accomplishments in a way that reflects the unity we love so much about our Trojan Family.”

Despite the note about the memo’s mention of “releas[ing] outside speakers,” it also notes that the ceremony will include “other internal and external speakers and performers.” Additional announcements about commencement are planned for next week.


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