California valedictorian opts out of delivering graduation speech due to troubling conversations

The valedictorian of the University of Southern California will no longer give a graduation speech this year due to “substantial risks relating to security” arising from social media discussions surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict.

USC disclosed that Asna Tabassum, a fourth-year student from Chino Hills, California, was chosen as the valedictorian and was to speak alongside two salutatorians. However, following concerns and discussions surrounding her selection, the university announced her withdrawal from delivering the speech at the commencement.

The decision came after complaints from students, alumni, and others regarding Tabassum’s social media activity, including a link in her Instagram bio to a pro-Palestine website.

The Provost of USC, Andrew Guzman, stated that the existing tensions, fueled by social media and the Middle East conflict, posed significant security risks that prompted Tabassum’s exclusion from the commencement ceremony.

Guzman emphasized the importance of maintaining campus safety, citing previous incidents at other universities, and highlighted the consultation between the Department of Public Safety and the campus safety team to assess potential threats for the event, which typically attracts around 65,000 attendees.

Groups Call for Reversal of USC Decision

In response to the university’s decision, Tabassum, speaking through the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles, expressed disappointment over the situation, citing racist and anti-Muslim sentiments she faced due to her advocacy for human rights.

The council criticized USC’s decision for empowering hate speech, failing to protect students, and sending a negative message to students who support Palestinian rights. They called on the community to demand Tabassum’s reinstatement as a speaker at the graduation ceremony.

One student group, “Trojans For Israel,” opposed Tabassum’s selection as a speaker, stating that it created an unwelcoming environment for Jewish graduates and their families, diverting the milestone into intolerance.

The commencement ceremony for 2024 is set for Friday, May 10.

Impact of Gaza Conflict Sparks Global Debate

The escalation of controversies surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict intensified following the brutal attack by Hamas militants on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, resulting in approximately 1,200 casualties.

Since that day, over 30,000 Palestinians have lost their lives in Gaza, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and leading to displacements and food shortages among civilians.

The conflict has prompted calls for the release of Israeli hostages and a ceasefire in Gaza, with individuals supporting both Israelis and Palestinians facing threats on social media.

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