Campus protests over Israel-Hamas war scaled down during US commencement exercises

Protests over the Israel-Hamas war have spread across U.S. university and college campuses in recent weeks, leading to disruptions and arrests
A graduate twirls with her Palestinian flag cape during the Emerson College commencement ceremony at Boston University's Agganis Arena, Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Boston. Many students verbally protested throughout the ceremony. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via AP)

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A graduate twirls with her Palestinian flag cape during the Emerson College commencement ceremony at Boston University's Agganis Arena, Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Boston. Many students verbally protested throughout the ceremony. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via AP)

Protests over the Israel-Hamas war have spread across U.S. university and college campuses in recent weeks, leading to disruptions and arrests. Some demonstrations extended into weekend graduation celebrations, although they were muted in comparison to the encampments and rallies that have roiled campuses and resulted in nearly 2,900 arrests of students and other protesters.

Most of the commencement exercises took place as scheduled and remained largely peaceful. Here is a look at some of the ceremonies that included protests:

DUKE UNIVERSITY

Dozens of the 7,000 graduates at Duke University left their seats to protest pro-Israel speaker and comedian Jerry Seinfeld during the commencement in Durham, North Carolina, on Sunday.

Some waved the red, green, black and white Palestinian flag and chanted “Free Palestine” amid a mix of boos and cheers.

Seinfeld, whose decade-long namesake show became one of the most popular in U.S. television history, was there to receive an honorary doctorate from the university.

The stand-up comedian and actor has publicly supported Israel since it invaded Gaza to dismantle Hamas after the organization attacked the country and killed some 1,200 people in southern Israel on Oct. 7. The ensuing war has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.

POMONA COLLEGE

Southern California’s small Pomona College moved Sunday evening’s commencement 30 miles (48 kilometers) to the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles after pro-Palestinian protesters set up an encampment last week on the campus’ ceremony stage. A few dozen pro-Palestinian demonstrators tried to block access to the graduation event.

Anwar Mohmed, a Pomona senior, said the school repeatedly ignored calls to consider divesting its endowment funds from corporations tied to the war in Gaza.

“We’ve been time and time again ignored by the institution,” Mohmed said outside the Shrine on Sunday. “So today we have to say, it’s not business as usual.”

EMERSON COLLEGE

Student protesters at Emerson College in Boston occasionally erupted into chants during Sunday’s commencement ceremony, trying to disrupt the event.

Several speakers stopped briefly and then spoke louder while the chants died down and ended. Some graduates wore Palestinian keffiyeh scarves. Others took off their graduation gowns and dropped them on the stage after receiving their diplomas.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY

Dozens of graduating students at Virginia Commonwealth University walked out Saturday during an address by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

While some of the estimated 100 students and family members who left during the Republican governor's speech showed support for Palestinians, others held signs signaling opposition to Youngkin's policies on education, according to WRIC-TV.

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY

At the University of California, Berkeley, on Saturday, a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators waved flags and chanted during commencement and were escorted to the back of the stadium, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There were no major counterprotests, but some attendees voiced frustration.

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill splattered red paint on the steps of a building hours ahead of the school's commencement and chanted on campus while students wearing graduation gowns posed for photos, the News & Observer reported.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON

A small group of demonstrators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison staged what appeared to be a silent protest during commencement at Camp Randall Stadium. A photo posted by the Wisconsin State Journal showed about six people walking through the rear of the stadium. Two carried a Palestinian flag.

Marc Lovicott, a spokesperson for campus police, said the group, which he believed included students because they were wearing caps and gowns, “was kind of guided out, but they left on their own.” No arrests were made.

Pro-Palestinian protesters at the campus had agreed Friday to permanently dismantle their 2-week-old encampment and not disrupt graduation ceremonies in return for the opportunity to connect with “decision-makers” who control university investments by July 1.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

At the University of Texas at Austin, a student held up a Palestinian flag during Saturday's commencement ceremony and refused to leave the stage briefly before being escorted away by security.

NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY

In Boston, commencement ceremonies for Northeastern University were held peacefully in the rain on May 5 at Fenway Park.

Some students waved small Palestinian and Israeli flags, but those were dotted among flags from India, the U.S. and other nations. Undergraduate student speaker Rebecca Bamidele drew brief cheers when she called for peace in Gaza.

Police arrested about 100 protesters at Northeastern last month when they broke up an encampment on campus.

OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY

A 53-year-old woman fell from the stands to her death during the May 5 graduation ceremony for Ohio State University, university officials said. The woman’s daughter was among those receiving a diploma.

The fall happened around midday near where the last graduates were filing into Ohio Stadium. The Columbus Dispatch reported the death was being investigated as an apparent suicide, citing coroner documents.

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

Police officers stood nearby as some graduates holding Palestinian flags and shouting pro-Palestinian messages protested during commencement at the University of Michigan on May 4. One banner said, “No universities left in Gaza.”

The protests were located away from the stage and didn’t stop the nearly two-hour event. Protesters have demanded Michigan cut financial ties with any companies connected to Israel. The university allowed protesters to set up an encampment in the middle of campus.

In this photo provided by Duke University, commencement speaker Jerry Seinfeld laughs on stage during the school's graduation ceremony, Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Durham, N.C. A tiny contingent of Duke graduates opposed the pro-Israel comedian speaking at their commencement Sunday, with about 30 of the 7,000 students leaving their seats and chanting “Free Palestine!” amid a mix of boos and cheers. (Bill Snead/Duke University via AP)

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Pro-Palestinian students hold white t-shirts stating the message, "DIVEST," as they protest during the UC Berkeley graduation at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Yalonda M. James/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

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Graduates have their photo taken by the Old Well as pro-Palestinian protesters chant behind them at UNC Chapel Hill on Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

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A graduate displays a message on his shirt, "No Grad in Gaza," during the Emerson College commencement ceremony at Boston University's Agganis Arena, Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Boston. Many students verbally protested throughout the ceremony. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via AP)

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