USC Cancels Main Commencement Ceremony, Citing Safety Concerns, Will Hold Smaller Events

Citing safety concerns following escalating protests, USC announced today it has canceled the “main stage” commencement ceremony that had been planned for May 10 and will require tickets for people to attend any other commencement activities.

The university will continue to hold “dozens” of smaller commencement events, including the individual school ceremonies — such as that for the School of Cinematic Arts — in which graduates are announced and walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.

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“To ensure we host commencement activities and celebrate our graduates safely, we will be implementing additional security measures,” reads a message from the university. “These include ticketing of all commencement events taking place on May 8-11 and directing all campus access through specific points of entry.”

Details on the ticketing process were expected to be posted online by Tuesday.

The announcement came one day after nearly 100 people were arrested on campus following a daylong “occupation” by pro-Palestinian protesters in Alumni Park, the site of the annual main commencement ceremony.

Pro-Palestine demonstrators rally at an encampment in support of Gaza at the University of Southern California on April 24, 2024 (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Pro-Palestine demonstrators rally at an encampment in support of Gaza at the University of Southern California on April 24, 2024 (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

USC is a private campus, and has rules in place barring people from erecting tents, hanging signs or camping.

The USC protests add to similar actions at Columbia University in New York and the University of Texas at Austin, among others, as college students have staged sit-ins and other activities to protest the Israel-Hamas conflict. Pro-Palestine protesters set up a similar encampment at UCLA today.

The USC protest was also fueled in part by the university’s decision to prevent valedictorian Asna Tabassum from speaking at the commencement ceremony following complaints about online posts critics called antisemitic, including a call for the abolition of Israel.

USC Provost Andrew Guzman announced the decision earlier this month to bar Tabassum from speaking at commencement, insisting it was strictly a public safety decision, not a political one.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Jewish Federation Los Angeles issued a statement calling protests at USC and other college campuses across the nation alarming.

“Antisemitism, hate, and intolerance towards Jewish students has no place on any campus,” according to the federation. “JFEDLA is working to ensure the safety of every Jewish student across Los Angeles. While we believe in peaceful civic discourse, these protests have escalated to the point of creating a dangerous climate for Jews on campus.”

The move drew condemnation from groups including the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles and the ACLU of Southern California.

With tensions continuing to build, USC announced on Friday that it was “redesigning the commencement program,” and it would no longer include any outside speakers or honorees.

Filmmaker Jon M. Chu had been scheduled to be the main commencement speaker during the May 10 event. Honorary degrees were expected to be presented to Chu, National Endowment for the Arts Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, tennis legend Billie Jean King and National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt.

The university said it will “confer these honorary degrees at a future commencement or other academic ceremonies.”

In its announcement Thursday canceling the main ceremony and requiring tickets for other events, the university said graduating students will be able to reserve free tickets for themselves and up to eight named guests — and ticketswill not be transferrable.

“Prior to entering commencement events, we will screen people and bags, using security measures similar to those for attending athletic events at the Coliseum and before entering many other large venues,” according to the university, which added that a “clear bag policy” will also be in place.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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