Harvard graduates’ commencement walkout over Gaza

Hundreds of students in robes chanted “Free Palestine” on Thursday as degrees were conferred

Hundreds of graduates walked out of a commencement ceremony at Harvard University on Thursday, calling for an end to the war in Gaza and decrying the disqualification of students involved in earlier protests.

A day earlier, it was announced that 13 students who had participated in a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus would not be allowed to receive their diplomas along with fellow graduates.

According to the Associated Press, groups of students walked out of the commencement chanting “Free, free Palestine” and “Let them walk, let them walk,” in reference to the graduates barred from participating in the ceremony.

Harvard said on Wednesday that one of its two governing boards overruled faculty members, who had voted to re-invite 13 student protesters omitted from commencement.

Student speakers at the ceremony strongly criticized the decision, deviating from their prepared remarks to voice support for their disqualified peers.

One of the speakers, Shruthi Kumar, said to applause: “This semester our freedom of speech and our expressions of solidarity became punishable… I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and the right to civil disobedience on campus.” 

“Harvard, do you hear us?” she shouted to students, who gave a standing ovation.

According to Kumar, more than 1,500 students petitioned and nearly 500 staff and faculty spoke up over Harvard’s decision.

More than 2,900 people have been arrested or detained at college and university campuses across the US since April 18, when the pro-Palestinian protests began, according to media reports. 

The demonstrators have called for their schools to cease all business with Israel or any companies that support its war effort in Gaza, which has killed 35,000 Palestinians since last October.

Police officers and university administrators have clashed with protesters, arresting students and removing encampments, as well as threatening academic consequences.

Harvard students voluntarily dismantled their encampment after the university said it would meet with them to discuss disclosure and divestment from Israel.