Harvard Students Protest, Walk Out During Commencement



During the Harvard University commencement ceremony, hundreds of students walked out to protest the university’s decision not to allow 13 students to graduate due to their involvement in protests over the Israel-Hamas war. The student protestors, part of a group called Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, believe that the university reneged on an agreement to clear their encampment from Harvard Yard without disciplinary action. The Harvard Corporation, however, maintains that it made no such promises, and that the disciplinary decisions were made due to the students’ violation of university rules.

Harvard University Students Protest Commencement Amid University Unrest

Harvard University witnessed hundreds of students walking out of the commencement ceremony as degrees were conferred in a protest against the decision to bar 13 student protesters from graduating. The walkout highlighted the ongoing unrest at the Cambridge campus, despite the gathering of more than 9,000 graduates and families for celebrations.

Interim President Alan Garber acknowledged the turmoil and the possible expressions of dissent during the ceremony. Student speakers criticized the Harvard Corporation for barring the 13 undergraduate protesters due to their roles in campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war, seen as a breach of an agreement with administrators.

Harvard denies having made any promises on the disciplinary outcome and has given no specifics regarding the violations committed by the 13 students. The student speaker, Shruthi Kumar, voiced her concern about the restriction of freedom of speech and expressions of solidarity.

Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, in her commencement speech, echoed the students’ protests and voiced concern over the campus protests. Throughout the 373rd commencement ceremony, Harvard tried to minimize distractions, maintaining traditional activities like music, prayer, and speeches.

Protest group, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (HOOP), suggested that Harvard had made concessions to their demands, while the university insisted it had only agreed to open a dialogue. As the ceremony proceeded, a plane carrying a banner with combined Israeli and American flags flew low over Harvard Yard.

Kumar walked out of the ceremony in support of the denied students. Students who walked out reconvened at a Methodist church near Harvard Square, staging a “people’s commencement,” sharing stories of casualties from the Gaza war. Local residents joined the event, carrying banners and shouting familiar slogans.

National Debate on University Unrest

The commencement walkouts concluded a year of protests against the war at Harvard, sparking a national debate over universities’ handling of unrest. The unrest started in October when over 30 student organizations held Israel responsible for the Hamas attacks in an open letter. The backlash led to strife on campus, wealthy donors withdrawing their funds, and the university’s first Black president being forced to resign.

The latest controversy began when HOOP announced some seniors would not graduate. Supporters claimed the students were being punished for peaceful protest. Harvard’s faculty restored the students to the graduation list, but the decision was overturned by Harvard’s corporation. The barred students can appeal the decision to return to good standing and receive their degrees promptly, the corporation stated.

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