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Students Stage Walkout During VCU Graduation Over Governor’s Speech

During the graduation ceremony at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) on Saturday, a significant number of students staged a walkout, reportedly in response to the appearance of the state governor, Glenn Youngkin, as the commencement speaker. The protest reflects ongoing tensions surrounding campus demonstrations and, more broadly, concerns over the Israel-Gaza conflict.

This incident occurs amid preparations by school authorities across the United States to address potential disruptions during graduation ceremonies due to protests related to the conflict. Numerous colleges, including those previously affected by protests, are holding commencement events over the weekend.

Social media posts captured the moment as VCU students, adorned in caps and gowns, exited the venue while Governor Youngkin delivered his address. The walkout underscores the charged atmosphere surrounding campus activism and highlights the ongoing dialogue regarding free speech and political engagement within educational institutions.

The selection of Governor Glenn Youngkin as the commencement speaker at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) drew criticism from some students, citing his stance against a proposed racial literacy requirement at VCU and his opposition to encampments on college campuses.

Videos shared online captured moments of protest during the ceremony, with VCU students chanting slogans such as “disclose, divest – we will not stop we will not rest”.

A common demand among many student protesters across the US is for their universities, often endowed with substantial funds, to sever financial ties with Israel.

According to Sereen Haddad, a second-year VCU student involved in organizing the protest, the applause was so loud that it drowned out Governor Youngkin’s speech, making it difficult for some members of the audience to hear.

Haddad mentioned that around 150 people participated in the demonstration, with students marching outside the ceremony and others choosing to walk out.

On April 29th, police arrested thirteen individuals, including six students, during the clearance of an encampment at VCU. Despite the walk-out during his speech, Governor Youngkin continued with his address as scheduled. Following the event, he took to social media to extend congratulations to the graduates, refraining from commenting on the protest.

Meanwhile, at another commencement ceremony on Saturday, University of California Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ addressed the ongoing demonstrations. Acknowledging the division among students, faculty, and staff due to the conflict, she expressed sadness over the situation, as reported by the LA Times.

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