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USC removes outside speakers and honorees from 2024 commencement

USC announces no outside speakers or honorees at 2024 graduation ceremony
USC announces no outside speakers or honorees at 2024 graduation ceremony 02:28

The University of Southern California is removing outside speakers and honorees from next month's graduation ceremony after a controversial decision to ban the university's valedictorian from delivering her commencement speech.

"To keep the focus on our graduates, we are redesigning the commencement program," USC said in a statement Friday afternoon. 

The administration slated "Crazy Rich Asians" director Jon M. Chu as the commencement speaker for the Class of 2024, according to a recently deleted page from the university's website. 

"Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year's ceremony," the school said. "It is important that our full attention be on our remarkable graduates. We will be celebrating their accomplishments in a way that reflects the unity we love so much about our Trojan Family."

The change comes after the university canceled valedictorian Asna Tabassum's ceremonial speech amid security concerns. She drew criticism over her views about the Middle East Conflict and social media links that her opponents said promoted "antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric."

"I'm not apologizing for the link that I put in my Instagram. What I am saying is that I'm committed to human rights. And I'm committed to the human rights for all people," Tabassum said after the cancelation. "A lot of the campaign against me has been, for example, claiming that I don't value the life of Jews. That's simply not true." 

Asna Tabassum
Asna Tabassum CBS News

The ban outraged many students. Hundreds rallied next to the university's Tommy Trojan statue to protest the administration's decision Thursday afternoon.

"One of the most gifted girls I have ever met," student Kaiser Kuresi said. "This university is trying to silence her."

In a statement, USC said the decision had nothing to do with Tabassum's background or views.

"The university's leadership made this decision in close consultation with our Department of Public Safety and threat team," USC said in a statement. "The decision had nothing to do with the background or viewpoint of the valedictorian but was instead based on a careful and holistic review of the situation from a safety and security standpoint."

USC senior Mark Rayant said he wanted the university to apologize for initially selecting Tabassum. 

"My main point of contention is the fact that the university would select somebody who is so outspoken on such a contentious and incendiary and polarizing issue right now," Rayant said. 

He also wrote Tabassum a letter after the announcement, hoping to have a conversation. 

"To try to give her a perspective, I believe she may be lacking because it is such a highly polarized and politicized issue," he said. 

A petition demanding Tabassum be allowed to speak at commencement has gathered thousands of signatures. Over 50 student organizations also signed a letter written in support of Tabassum, who argued that USC caved to hatred. 

"I'm just as committed to the lives of Jews as I am to Muslims or to Christians, or to any other sort of identity," Tabassum said earlier this week. 

Additional details about the commencement ceremony are expected to be released next week. The ceremony will be on May 10 at 8:30 a.m.

Honorary degrees will be handed out during a future commencement or other academic ceremony.

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