Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Pro-Palestinian graduates walk out of 2024 Commencement Ceremony in solidarity with Gaza

The+protest+outside+the+United+Center+in+the+University%E2%80%99s+designated+%E2%80%9Cfree+speech+zone%E2%80%9D+saw+over+100+people%2C+including+graduates+who+walked+out%2C+family+members+and+community+members.
Shannon Tyler/The Daily Northwestern
The protest outside the United Center in the University’s designated “free speech zone” saw over 100 people, including graduates who walked out, family members and community members.

Shortly after the procession of Northwestern’s class of 2024 into the United Center for the 166th Annual Commencement Ceremony, over 50 graduates, some holding Palestinian flags, silently stood up and walked out. 

The students walked out at about 11:40 a.m. when Peter Barris, chair of the Board of Trustees, began giving his greeting address. They left the building to join dozens of family and community members protesting outside the arena in the University’s designated “free speech zone” to protest the NU’s investment in companies and institutions connected to Israel and hold a ceremony of their own honoring those killed in Gaza. 

“This community of people here took the difficult action, the scary action of standing up in a room full of people celebrating during a genocide, standing up in a room full of people who felt the need to ignore what is happening in the world,” Jordan Muhammad (Communication ’24) said. “The ceremony necessitated ignoring what is happening in the world, and we are in a community that is centering what is happening in the world.” 

Several dozen graduates adorned their cap and gowns with Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, flags and phrases to show solidarity during the Commencement. The back of Muhammad’s gown read “What about Gaza’s class of 2024?” 

Preparing for potential protests from students, the University announced a new policy regarding graduation security. Vice President of Student Affairs Susan Davis and University Provost Kathleen Hagerty released a statement Tuesday outlining the University’s plans to prevent and respond to potential disruptions during Graduation Weekend activities.

According to the message, artificial noisemakers, banners, flags, flyers and “anything else that would interfere with another guest’s ability to see, hear and enjoy the ceremony” would be prohibited at commencement and convocation ceremonies.

If students are suspected of violating the Student Code of Conduct, the University will hold their degrees pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings, according to the email.

Hagerty and Davis also stated there would be a designated free speech area outside the venue, and the message stated that the University “encourages anyone who wishes to engage in expressive activity to do so there.”

Students across the country — including at the University of Chicago and Harvard University — have walked out of other graduation ceremonies and demonstrated solidarity with Palestine through flags and banners. Some universities including Columbia University and the University of Southern California preemptively canceled their all-school ceremonies due to student protests. 

Protesters held a ceremony for lost lives in Gaza. Graduates pinned a rose to a pamphlet that read the name and story of someone killed. (Shannon Tyler/The Daily Northwestern)

As the students walked out, they chanted “Free, Free Palestine” before conducting a ceremony to mourn the lost lives of Palestinians. 

Each graduate read the name and the story of someone who had died in Gaza. For each person, the graduates took a rose and a piece of paper that read the person’s name and story and then pinned them to a banner that read “No Graduation in Gaza, For the Martyrs.”

Rabbi Brant Rosen, the founding Rabbi of Tzedek Chicago joined the group and led the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer for the memory of those who have passed.

“We say this as we remember the memory of those who have been killed in this genocide,” Rosen said. “We are also affirming the goodness of our solidarity with one another and the goodness of the vision of the world we are creating together.”  

An NU alum who spoke at the protest said many other alumni who were involved in Northwestern Students for Justice in Palestine and the NU Divestment Coalition visited campus in April to support students at the Pro-Palestinian encampment on Deering Meadow.

They said the movement transcends the four year cycles of students and that the class of 2024 is “planting the seed” for future classes. 

“The proudest I have ever been of my alma mater was on April 26, 2024 when I saw community galvanized by your steadfast conviction in holding the University accountable through its direct investment in its genocide that has been televised for the entire world,” the alum said. 

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