University of Southern California cancels outside speakers at ceremony due to valedictorian controversy

The commencement ceremony at the University of Southern California has undergone changes, with the cancellation of appearances by outside speakers and honorees. This decision comes in the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the valedictorian’s exclusion from delivering a graduation speech.

After a heated discussion on social media regarding Asna Tabassum, the university announced the removal of her speech, citing the intense nature of the discourse surrounding her selection.

In a recent update, USC stated, “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. It is important that our full attention be on our remarkable graduates.”

Furthermore, honorary degrees, including those for commencement speaker Jon Chu, Billie Jean King, Maria Rosario Jackson, and Marcia McNutt, will be postponed by the university.

While specific names of remaining commencement speakers were not disclosed, previous announcements included Jaren Lewison and Miky Lee for different departments.

USC did not offer a response to inquiries from USA TODAY.

Security Concerns Prompt USC’s Provost to Act

This move by USC represents the first instance of the school preventing its valedictorian from speaking at a graduation ceremony.

Provost Andrew Guzman highlighted the impact of social media outrage following Tabassum’s valedictorian selection, expressing concern over her online activity and potential risks associated with her speech.

Explaining the decision, Guzman stated, “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 commencement.”

He emphasized the need to prioritize safety and referenced past incidents at other campuses, urging caution in light of potential threats during the ceremony that typically attracts around 65,000 attendees.

Tabassum’s Response to USC’s Decision

Asna Tabassum, a South Asian-American and Muslim student studying biomedical engineering, expressed disappointment over USC’s choice to exclude her speech.

In a statement released through the Council on American-Islamic Relations Los Angeles branch, Tabassum stated, “I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university—my home for four years—has abandoned me.”

She denounced the campaign of hatred and emphasized her commitment to advocating for human rights without discrimination.

Supporters Rally in Solidarity with Asna Tabassum

Following the announcement, students, faculty, and activists gathered at USC to protest the decision to cancel Tabassum’s speech.

Protesters displayed signs reading “Let Asna Speak” and vocalized their support for Tabassum as the rightful valedictorian.

One student mentioned, “This university is trying to silence her.”

Another USC senior expressed frustration, stating, “This is just another example of that,” in reference to the university’s treatment of marginalized voices.

The commencement ceremony is still scheduled to take place on Friday, May 10.

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