‘We should be speaking up’: Georgia commencement speakers talk protests

As tensions rise on campuses across the country over Israeli-Palestinian crisis; so to do concerns for graduation ceremonies.

Daniel Black calls serving as his alma mater’s commencement speaker the greatest honor of a lifetime.

Black is a professor of African American studies at Clark Atlanta University, where he will deliver his speech on May 18. He’s giddy talking about it. Other high-profile names making addresses to local graduates include President Joe Biden, actress Angela Bassett and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.

One thing the acclaimed author and activist won’t be discussing on stage the war between Hamas and Israel.

“We have students who are clearly aware and very concerned as are our faculty and staff at Clark in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he says. “That’s not what I intend to focus on.”

Across the country and in Georgia, college campuses are seeing demonstrations where students, faculty and staff are clashing with law enforcement. The tension is leading to instances of commencement speakers backing out of engagements, or the ceremony being canceled altogether, which is the case at the University of Southern California. At schools such as Emory University, Morehouse College and the University of Georgia, concerns are growing over how schools will handle the mounting tension.

For commencement speakers, if there is a burden to back out or speak up, Black isn’t feeling it.

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Daniel Black is a 30-year professor of African American Studies at Clark Atlanta University. He is also an award-winning novelist, activist, mentor and public speaker. Black is the 2024 commencement speaker at Clark Atlanta. Photo credit: Clark Atlanta University.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed