On a Day of Graduations, Berkeley’s Protests Stand Out

At the University of California, Berkeley, hundreds of soon-to-be graduates rose from their seats in protest, chanting and disrupting their commencement. At Virginia Commonwealth University, about 60 graduates in caps and gowns walked out during Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s speech. At the University of Wisconsin, a handful of graduates stood with their backs to their chancellor as she spoke.

After weeks of tumult on college campuses over pro-Palestinian protests, many administrators prepared themselves for disruptions at graduations on Saturday. And while there were demonstrations — most noisily, perhaps, at U.C. Berkeley — ceremonies at several universities unfolded without major incident. Many students who protested did so silently.

Anticipating possible disruptions, university administrators had increased their security or taken various measures, including dismantling encampments, setting aside free speech zones, canceling student speeches and issuing admission tickets.

Some administrators also tried to reach agreements with encampment organizers. The University of Wisconsin said it had reached a deal with protesters to clear the encampment in return for a meeting to discuss the university’s investments.

Some students, too, were on edge about their big day — many missed their high school graduations four years ago because of the pandemic and did not want to repeat the experience.

In 2020, David Emuze and his mother had watched his high school graduation “ceremony,” a parade of senior photos set to music on Zoom, from their living room in Springfield, Ill. This time, he and his classmates at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign heard that other schools, like the University of Southern California and Columbia University, had canceled their main-stage commencements altogether because of campus unrest.

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