Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students, faculty and community members stage pro-Palestinian walkout at UMass Commencement Ceremony

Class of 2024 honored at UMass’s 154th-annual Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony
Nathan Legare

The University of Massachusetts held its 154th-annual Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony at the McGuirk Alumni Stadium on May 18. Early in the event, pro-Palestinian audience members, faculty and graduating seniors staged a walkout before Chancellor Javier Reyes’ commencement address, calling for his resignation.

The protest comes amidst a period of widespread criticism towards Reyes and the University as a whole. On May 7, over 130 protesters were arrested for Land Use Policy violations after participating in a Gaza Solidarity encampment on the Student Union South Lawn. According to the Massachusetts Court system database, those arrested face criminal misdemeanor charges including Riot, Trespass and Resisting Arrest. In a statement via email, the chancellor confirmed that he directly ordered the police to disperse crowds, a move which many students and faculty members have deemed to be excessive.

Since the arrests, students have alleged brutal treatment by the Massachusetts State Police and the UMass Police Department. Reyes has also faced push back from the campus as a whole, with the Student Government Association approving a no confidence motion on May 8. An upcoming emergency Faculty Senate meeting was also held on May 12 discussing “campus protests and administrative and policing responses” while considering a motion of no confidence. .

Following a land acknowledgment, the podium was cleared for Reyes’ commencement address, and the protest began. Boos echoed throughout the stadium as attendees shouted from across the field at Reyes, calling him a liar and a hypocrite. In the stands, parents held up a banner reading “You kill their kids, you failed ours” as they walked out of the facility. On the field, faculty members and graduating seniors rose from their seats, walking out the stadium’s south entrance chanting for a free Palestine and the resignation of Reyes.

“As a public university, we are deeply committed to upholding the tenets of academic freedom and free speech,” Reyes said to heckles from the audience and graduating class. “We will always support the rights of our students, faculty and staff to explore challenging ideas and advocate for a point of view.”

He continued, “We also recognize that while we may not always agree, this university must be a place where students and faculty are able to pursue opportunities and make choices that work for them, even if they’re not that choice that we would make for ourselves.”

A separate ceremony was held simultaneously outside of McGuirk for graduating seniors participating in the walkout. There, faculty members recognized student activists with diplomas from the “People’s University for Gaza,” according to a press release from the Students for Justice in Palestine.

After the walkout, the ceremony commenced as scheduled, with this year’s undergraduate student speaker, Sophia He, a linguistics major from Fremont, CA with a minor in sociology. He spoke confidently to the Class of 2024, emphasizing the power of togetherness.

“We all entered UMass Amherst as individuals, but we will all leave as a community – a family,” He said. “As you take this next step into this newest chapter of your lives, I ask for everyone to remember this feeling. Remember that in this journey that we call life, there will always be a community that understands and supports you.”

Following He’s speech, the graduating class was welcomed into the Alumni Association. Then, student honorees were recognized by members of UMass Administration, including this year’s “21st Century Leaders,” 10 graduating undergraduates “who have demonstrated exemplary standards of achievement, intuitive and social awareness.”

Three honorary degrees were also awarded. Jason Fettig was up first, a two-time bachelor’s degree recipient from UMass and the former director of the United States Marine Band. Receiving a honorary doctorate in Public Service was Paul Manning, the chairman and CEO of PBM Capital Group who created the Manning Innovation Program. The last recipient was Earl Stafford, the founder of the Stafford Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit that assists impoverished people in Africa and the United States.

“Now, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for,” Reyes joked as he initiated the presentation of degree candidates. One by one, the deans from each college took to the podium, bestowing upon each graduating student the bachelor’s degree in their respective fields. With a turn of the tassel, the Class of 2024 officially became UMass’s newest group of alumni.

The ceremony concluded with the singing of the UMass Alma Mater, “When Twilight Shadows Deepen,” accompanied by the UMass Wind Ensemble.

Nathan Legare can be reached at [email protected].

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