At U.C. Berkeley Ceremony, a Student Protest Draws in Hundreds

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Befitting a campus synonymous with student protest, the graduation ceremony at the University of California, Berkeley, on Saturday blurred the lines between pomp and pro-Palestinian activism.

When the university chancellor, Carol Christ, took the stage around 10:45 a.m. at the school’s Memorial Stadium, a smattering of boos erupted from graduating students. But her initial remarks, acknowledging the students camping on Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza for almost three weeks, elicited cheers. “They feel passionately about the brutality of the violence in Gaza,” she said. “I, too, am deeply troubled by the terrible tragedy.”

As the chancellor continued, dozens of students in the crowd in the stands rose with signs reading, “Divest,” and at least 10 Palestinian flags. They began to chant: “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has got to go” and “U.C. divest.” They also interrupted the speech by the student body president, Sydney Roberts, who said, “This wouldn’t be Berkeley without a protest.”

Ms. Roberts continued her speech, expressing pride in the activism on campus and empathy for those affected by the conflict in Gaza. The chants did not stop. Lisa García Bedolla, vice provost, interrupted and warned that those continuing to disrupt the ceremony would be asked to leave. That was greeted by cheers from the crowd of guests, largely students’ families, seated in a majority of the sections.

Greta Brown, 23, a graduate in environmental science, was one of the students who joined in the chanting. Dressed in her cap, gown and a stole that said “Palestine,” she said she had felt the recent tension on campus and was compelled to support her fellow students. “I felt like it was necessary,” she said.

A group of about 50 students then staked out a section of empty stadium seats behind the main stage, continuing their chanting. Hundreds of Berkeley graduating students stood up and left the designated student section to join them, swelling the crowd behind the stage to about 500.

Ms. Bedolla warned that security personnel would start removing protesters. She paused the speaker, and the stadium put on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” for about five minutes. Eventually, more security guards gathered in front of the protesting students. Amid the Palestinian flags and continuing chants, most of the protesters slowly made their way from behind the speakers to the concourse above the stadium as the graduation drew to a close.

About 100 of the demonstrators regrouped on the street outside the stadium to continue protesting, with signs condemning Zionism and calling for alumni to not donate to the school.

“I think it was a graduation to remember,” said Sahar Enayati, 21, a graduating senior.



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