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Sunday, May 26, 2024

U.S.C. Valedictorian Graduates Amidst Cheers, Speechless

Amidst a storm of controversy and upheaval, Asna Tabassum, the valedictorian at the University of Southern California (U.S.C.), found herself thrust into the national spotlight, her graduation ceremony serving as a battleground for free speech and advocacy for the Palestinian cause.

The turmoil began when school administrators announced last month that it would be too risky for Ms. Tabassum to deliver her valedictory address at the schoolwide commencement, citing concerns over safety after criticism from pro-Israel groups. As a Muslim student who had expressed sympathy for Palestinians on social media, Ms. Tabassum became the target of intense scrutiny and harassment.

However, on Friday morning, amidst cheers and applause from her peers and their families, Ms. Tabassum received her degree, marking a poignant moment in her journey from a relatively unknown undergraduate at U.S.C.’s Viterbi School of Engineering to a symbol of resilience and defiance in the face of adversity.

In the span of a few weeks, Ms. Tabassum’s story captured national attention, drawing both support and criticism. While conservative groups funded a billboard near campus denouncing her, she also garnered widespread backing from students and academics who decried the university’s treatment of her.

In response to the controversy, protests erupted on campus, both against the decision to cancel Ms. Tabassum’s speech and in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. The first demonstration led to a swift crackdown and 93 arrests by the Los Angeles Police Department, ordered by U.S.C. president Carol Folt.

Subsequent protests, however, were met with a more tempered response, signaling a shift in the university’s approach. Despite the tumultuous events of recent weeks, the engineering graduation ceremony on Friday proceeded smoothly, devoid of disruptions or visible signs of protest.

While Ms. Tabassum did not address the audience at the ceremony, the student newspaper, The Daily Trojan, published what was purported to be her intended speech. In a bold move, Ms. Tabassum chose to redact the majority of the contents, leaving only words of congratulations and gratitude.

As graduates celebrated their achievements, the campus bore reminders of the challenges faced in the lead-up to the ceremony. Tight security measures were in place, with warnings of ejection for any disruptions during the proceedings.

In the aftermath of the graduation, Ms. Tabassum remained elusive, declining to speak with reporters. Despite the intense scrutiny she faced, she appeared to embrace the joy of the moment, sharing smiles and capturing memories with friends.

Ultimately, Ms. Tabassum’s silent statement through The Daily Trojan epitomized her resilience and determination to have her voice heard, even in the face of opposition. As she embarks on the next chapter of her journey, her story serves as a testament to the power of conviction and the enduring pursuit of justice and equality.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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