Students protest war in Gaza at graduation ceremonies

A man in a black mortarboard and purple robe with a white and black scarf holds up a cardboard sign reading “Free Palestine”

Graduates across NYU’s schools wore keffiyeh scarves, carried signs and held Palestinian flags at their respective graduation ceremonies last week in protest of the war in Gaza and the university’s recent crackdown on pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus, which have led to dozens of student and faculty arrests. 

NYU president Linda Mills — who has faced significant pushback from students, faculty and alumni for her response to on-campus protests — was present for the Stern School of Business graduation, but did not attend the ceremonies of other schools at the university’s Washington Square campus that faced disruptions, including the Tisch School of the Arts, the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and the School of Law. 

Last Wednesday, dozens of graduating students walked out of NYU’s all-university commencement exercises at Yankee Stadium as Mills delivered her commencement address. Students who had walked out gathered outside the stadium’s entrances chanting as New York City Police Department officers and security guards stood around the protest while the commencement ceremony continued. 


At the Tisch ceremony held inside Radio City Music Hall on Friday, as graduates made their way to their seats, many walked across the stage wearing keffiyeh scarves, holding signs reading “COPS OFF CAMPUS” and “FREE PALESTINE” and carrying Palestinian flags. 

Tisch alum and award-winning comedian Billy Crystal delivered a speech as this year’s honorary speaker, during which he spoke about his experience as a student in the 1970s during the Vietnam War and protests on college campuses at the time. In his speech, Crystal cited police violence in anti-war demonstrations at Jackson State College and Kent State University that resulted in the killing of several students. 

“It was a terrifying time, a scary time, like now,” Crystal said. “The country was torn apart, young men were suddenly on an assembly line to feed the Vietnam War Machine. It couldn’t be more tense for young people, especially young men.”

A group of graduates at the Tisch ceremony held signs and Palestinian flags on stage. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Before congratulating the class of 2024, Tisch dean Allyson Greene allocated a moment of silence to acknowledge the occupied territory of the Lenni Lenape peoples that NYU sits on — during which a member of the audience yelled, “free Palestine.” 

“We know our graduates will make meaning of this turbulent time because we’ve already seen their creative output,” Greene said in her speech. “Your collective acts of both protest and creation on behalf of climate action and social justice issues. These are already reinventing, reordering, reaccessing and proving that your voice, you, are essential.”

Toward the end of the ceremony, department chairs presented students with honorary diplomas on behalf of each of the school’s programs. Naomi Clark, chair of the NYU Game Center, noted how this year’s graduates are entering “a time of immense injustice and pain in the world” and emphasized the importance of holding institutions accountable. The Game Center is one of several departments at NYU whose faculty publicly condemned Mills’ response to the Gould Plaza encampment. 

“You can see when the system needs shaking up into a new pattern, whether those systems govern labor practices, or what kind of people are visible in creative works or who’s allowed to speak,” Clark said in her remarks. “Just remember every system, whether it’s a game or institution or a society, needs to grow and change and iterate, and that always takes a little bit of disruption.”  


Thousands gathered at the Beacon Theatre on Thursday for the Gallatin commencement ceremony, where dozens of graduates carried banners reading “Free Palestine” and “NYU has blood on its hands” while crossing the stage. 

As students walked across the stage, at least two dozen held or wore signs calling on NYU to divest from companies with ties to Israel and close its Tel Aviv study away site. Several students also refused to shake hands or pose with Gallatin dean Victoria Rosner and yelled phrases such as “you support genocide” as she spoke. One student wearing a keffiyeh shook the hand of associate dean of students Patrick McCreery with red paint.

A graduating student shakes hands with associate dean of students Patrick McCreery with red paint in their hand. (Danny Arensberg for WSN)

Student and faculty speakers echoed concern relating to on and off-campus-protests that address Israel’s ongoing siege in Gaza. Student speaker Alexandra Friedman, who received a standing ovation, referenced her concentration in minerals and glass to draw analogies commemorating the significance of graduation and asking how to “reshape what is broken.”

“We have learned to withstand the heat and to push the limits of our bodies, as well as the limits of an institution like NYU,” Friedman said. “We are asking questions, not yielding to pressure, walking into the flame without fear. We are leaning on each other to transform ourselves, the university and the world around us.”


At NYU Law’s convocation on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, several graduates chanted “NYU your hands are red, over 40,000 dead” while others held up large Palestinian flags.

“This ceremony is for everyone, not for a single person,” NYU Law dean Troy McKenzie said at the ceremony, as a nearby graduate displayed a Palestinian flag to a cheering audience. “And I would ask you to respect each other, to respect your classmates and to respect their families.” 

Some graduates declined to shake McKenzie’s hand and held signs that read “NYU funds genocide.” NYU Law spokesperson Shonna Keogan confirmed that “the protests were limited to” the ceremony in the morning in a statement to WSN. 

“It’s regrettable that at [Thursday’s] JD graduation, a handful of protesters saw fit to interfere with and delay the progress of the ceremony,” Keogan wrote. “They were asked to refrain from their activities, and when they did not, they were escorted from the stage, allowing the ceremony to proceed as planned.”

CAS, Steinhardt and Stern 

Some graduates wore keffiyeh scarves and others adorned their graduation caps with pro-Palestinan chants and designs at commencement ceremonies for the College of Arts & Science and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development — both of which were held at Radio City Music Hall last Tuesday and Thursday respectively. 

Students at the Steinhardt graduation ceremony decorated their caps with pro-Palestinian designs. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Neither ceremony saw major disruptions and student and faculty speakers did not talk about recent protests on campus. Steinhardt dean Jack Knott told graduates to “do what you have to do to be heard” and encouraged “dialogue” and “mutual understanding,” and faculty speaker Patrick Deer told CAS graduates they “had a moral courage” that “exceeds previous generations.”

Crowd members booed as a video recording of Mills started playing at the Steinhardt ceremony, and at least one student painted their hands red and refused to shake hands with Knott.

There were no disruptions or reports of protests at the Stern commencement Friday — which Mills had attended in person. At the event, she made no mention of the war in Gaza or the criticism NYU leadership is facing for its response to on-campus demonstrations.

A woman with brown hair and a black robe with white accents stands in front of a podium with a white sign that reads “N.Y.U Stern Undergraduate College”.
NYU president Linda Mills delivers a speech to Stern’s graduating class of 2024. (Danny Arensberg for WSN)

The university did not respond to request for comment about the disruptions at the Gallatin graduation and did not respond to requests for comment about students booing Mills at the ceremonies.

Contact Aashna Miharia, Bruna Horvath and Dharma Niles at

This story Students protest war in Gaza at graduation ceremonies appeared first on Washington Square News.


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