After Valedictorian Hubbub at USC, a New Development

After nixing commencement speech, university nixes appearances by outside speakers, honorees
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2024 5:21 PM CDT
Updated Apr 20, 2024 7:00 AM CDT
USC Named Its Valedictorian Then Axed Her Speech
The name for the University of Southern California is displayed at a campus entrance in Los Angeles Tuesday, April 16, 2024.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
UPDATE Apr 20, 2024 7:00 AM CDT

First the University of Southern California nixed a commencement speech by its valedictorian. Now, university officials say they're "redesigning" the entire graduation ceremony, with one especially notable move. "Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year's ceremony," read a Friday university statement, per the AP. That includes keynote speaker Jon M. Chu, director of the 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians, as well as such honorees as tennis legend Billie Jean King, National Endowment for the Arts chief Maria Rosario Jackson, and geophysicist Marcia McNutt, per CNN. USC says on its site it's canceling these appearances to "keep the focus on our graduates."

Apr 16, 2024 5:21 PM CDT

The University of Southern California's valedictorian will not address her graduating class, the school announced Monday. It said the planned speech by Asna Tabassum was axed due to what it described as "substantial" security risks, reports the AP. Tabassum is Muslim and has voiced her support on social media for Palestinians, drawing criticism from pro-Israeli groups. Tabassum, a biomedical engineering major with a minor in resistance to genocide, described herself as blindsided by the move. Standout details:

  • From Tabassum: "I am both shocked by this decision and profoundly disappointed that the university is succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice," she said in a statement released by the Council of American Islamic Relations. "There remain serious doubts about whether USC's decision to revoke my invitation to speak is made solely on the basis of safety." The Los Angeles Times cites a campus official who said email, phone, and mailed threats were received.

  • From USC Provost Andrew Guzman: "Discussion related to the selection of our valedictorian has taken on an alarming tenor. The intensity of feelings, fueled by both social media and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, has grown to include many voices outside of USC and has escalated to the point of creating substantial risks relating to security and disruption at the commencement," which brings about 65,000 people to campus.
  • From Guzman, II: "To be clear: this decision has nothing to do with freedom of speech. There is no free-speech entitlement to speak at a commencement." The Los Angeles Times reports the university did confirm this was the first time one of its valedictorians would not speak at the ceremony.
  • The selection process: The New York Times explains any graduating student with a minimum 3.98 GPA is eligible to be valedictorian. More than 200 students did, and about half were evaluated by a committee. The selection of Tabassum was announced April 5 and cited volunteer medical work she had done with the homeless in LA and beyond.
  • Tabassum's social media activity: The Los Angeles Times reports the group We Are Tov flagged Instagram posts on the Trojans for Palestine page that Tabassum had liked. Her Instagram bio links to a landing page that reads "learn about what's happening in Palestine, and how to help." The Guardian reports the slideshow it presents supports "one Palestinian state," which would mean Palestinian liberation and the complete abolishment of the state of Israel."
(More valedictorian stories.)

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