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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Commencement events largely proceed as planned, with some interruptions

A Northeastern student is confronted by police while protesting the war in Gaza as university president Joseph E. Aoun speaks during a commencement ceremony at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass. on May 5, 2024. (Sophie Park/The New York Times).

By Matthew Eadie and Rachel Richardson

The war in the Gaza Strip, combined with tensions over student protests in the past several weeks, had an unmistakable presence at some commencement ceremonies on Sunday.

At Fenway Park in Boston, home of the Boston Red Sox, about 4,000 undergraduate students of Northeastern University and nearly 30,000 attendees gathered for a graduation ceremony. It came at a tense time, just over one week after 98 people were arrested — including 29 students and six faculty or staff members — when police cleared out a pro-Palestinian encampment built on campus last Saturday.

Some students painted Palestinian symbols and flags on the top of their graduation caps. The student speaker for the commencement, Rebecca Bamidele, received cheers from some in the audience after highlighting the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. When Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun was introduced, several students began booing with scattered pro-Palestinian chants.

At one point, a student wearing a kaffiyeh wrapped around his head and a shirt reading “DIVEST” ran up to the stage before being forcibly removed by police and dragged out of the seating area.

The dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Kellee Tsai, addressed the interruption, reading off what appeared to be a prepared note.

“We respect your passion and opinions, we respect your right to voice them, in the appropriate setting,” Tsai said. “This event honors our graduates and distinguished guests and is a celebration of their achievements. Out of respect for your community and honored guests, I ask that you let us continue with this event.”

There were no disruptions earlier Sunday, when thousands of students attended Northeastern’s graduate student commencement.

At Ohio State University, there were fewer interruptions as an estimated 70,000 people watched 12,000 students graduate at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. Some student groups had called for demonstrations, but the only protests were quiet individual ones: Several students decorated their mortar boards with pro-Palestinian designs, carried the Palestinian flag and wore kaffiyehs.

Melissa Shivers, Ohio State’s senior vice president for student life, said in her welcoming address that “disruptions will not be permitted,” emphasizing the “not.” The emphatic warning earned a roar of applause from the crowd.

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