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Demonstrations continue at universities across the country during weekend commencement ceremonies

Protests continued and new encampments were set up at universities across the country as opening ceremonies took place on Saturday, following weeks of pro-Palestinian protests that led to nearly 3,000 arrests, according to an NBC News tally.

Dozens of students left Virginia Commonwealth University ceremony Saturday morning as Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivered commencement speech, video posted on watch.

After several people were arrested last week at the school as police dismantled encampments on college campuses, VCU said on its website before commencement that disruptions to the ceremony were strictly prohibited.

But student groups, including the VCU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, launched a “silent strike” to protest Youngkin’s policies and his role in the arrests of pro-Palestinian student protesters in April.

Students dressed in caps and gowns walked quietly toward the back of the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Saturday, prompting some people in the crowd to burst into joy.

The Commonwealth Times, the university’s student newspaper, said in a statement post on that the walkout was “to protest the appearance of Governor Glenn Youngkin as keynote speaker.”

Other pictures posted on X showed a group of people, including graduates, outside the convention center chanting and holding signs, including one reading “No graduation as usual.”

Palestinian badge on a graduate.
A University of Southern California graduate wears a stole reading “Palestine” during commencement ceremonies Friday.Ryan Sun / AP

Attendees who left the convention center after the ceremony began will not be allowed to re-enter, the school said.

The university declined to comment Saturday.

The University of Southern California in Los Angeles held weeklong commencement events after canceling its main stage ceremony due to security concerns related to student protests. He also canceled Muslim student Asna Tabassum’s commencement speech, a move that further inflamed tensions on campus. USC Provost Andrew Guzman said he canceled Tabassum’s speech due to security concerns amid tensions related to the “ongoing conflict in the Middle East.”

Tabassum, who said the university’s decision was thinly veiled racism, took the stage during a commencement ceremony Friday night and received loud applause from students and spectators, the Los Angeles reported Times.

Joel Curran, senior vice president of communications, told the newspaper the ceremony was “joyful and celebratory,” with “no disruption.”

The protests disrupted the start ceremonies Friday and Saturday at the University of California, Berkeley. As Sydney Roberts, the school’s student body president, spoke to her fellow graduates Saturday, a group of people in the crowd began chanting.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that shortly afterward, about 20 students stood up and held up Palestinian signs and flags, chanting “Free Palestine!” » Security guards escorted them to the back of the room, according to the media.

About 300 other graduates then stood up and moved to part of the room and began chanting, prompting some people to chant “kick them out,” the Chronicle reported.

During Friday’s ceremony, there was a similar disruption when students removed their robes to reveal white shirts with “UC Divest” written on them during the UC Berkeley Law School graduation , according to the Chronicle. The university responded Friday, saying in a statement that the interruption “did not impact proceedings, prevent us from honoring the hard work and accomplishments of our students, nor did it necessitated the premature conclusion of our ceremony.”

The Wharton Executive MBA Program at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin will host ceremonies throughout Saturday.

Police officers in riot gear descended on the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia at dawn Friday to arrest and remove protesters who had defied earlier orders to disperse. Police said nine of those arrested were students while the other 24 had no affiliation with the school.

Like other universities, the schools implemented additional security measures and said no disruptions would be tolerated. Officials at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said graduates must show their student IDs to enter Kenan Stadium and reminded students of free speech laws and policies that include a series of disciplinary action for those who materially interfere with another person’s protected free speech. .

“This includes protests that limit the ability of others to hear a speaker,” the school said on its website. “The University respects the rights of peaceful protesters. Although anyone – including students, faculty and staff – can gather and exercise their right to free speech, state law and Board of Governors policy prohibit any significant disruption of University operations.

The school – which has seen several on-campus protests and subsequent arrests – warned that anyone who fails to comply “will be subject to arrest.”

Hours before Saturday night’s graduation ceremony, pro-Palestinian protesters defaced a campus building with red paint and chalk in the middle of a demonstration, WRAL reported. Protesters left red handprints with messages saying “UNC has blood on their hands” and covered the steps of the South Building with red paint.

A new encampment was also set up Saturday on the UNC campus, WRAL reported, with tents and demonstrators holding signs reading “Stop the Genocide” and “End the Siege.”

Earlier Saturday, protesters held a “people’s graduation” for students who had been suspended following another protest two weeks ago, according to WRAL.

University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell, who has been criticized by faculty and students for calling on law enforcement to arrest protesters, said in a video message that the Class of 2024, made up of about 10,800 graduates, deserved to start, but warned there would be a start. have “no tolerance for any disruption of your special and hard-earned success.”

UT did not say whether it was increasing security ahead of the celebration and issued detailed guidelines on its clear bag policy and which items would be strictly prohibited. Brian Davis, UT spokesman for issues and crisis communications, said these rules were in place for previous graduations, but the university was more explicit about them this year.

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