The show must go on: Graduates celebrate without main ceremony

Valedictorian Asna Tabassum received long-lasting applause when she received her diploma.

Soon-to-be graduates celebrated at 47 individual school-specific ceremonies after the University canceled Asna Tabassum’s Valedictorian speech and the Class of 2024’s main commencement ceremony, citing safety concerns. (Bryce Dechert/ Daily Trojan)

Hundreds of soon-to-be graduates gathered on Figueroa Street Friday at 3:30 a.m. in anticipation of The 901 Bar & Grill’s annual Senior Sunrise Party. Donning full graduation regalia, the crowd of seniors waited eagerly for hours until the bar could legally begin serving drinks at 6 a.m. 

While the students were waiting, Stone Sacks, a senior majoring in business administration, took the DJ stand at 5:22 a.m., and bouncers began throwing T-shirts off the roof into the crowd shortly after. When the doors to the 9-0 opened at 6 a.m., the crowd rushed into the bar, and many stayed for hours until they had to go to campus to check in for their individual commencement ceremonies.

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On April 25, the University announced it would be canceling the Class of 2024’s main stage commencement ceremony. The news came just 10 days after Provost Andrew Guzman announced Valedictorian Asna Tabassum would be barred from speaking at graduation due to “safety concerns.” Numerous commencement speakers withdrew from their ceremonies in protest of the decision. On April 28, Author C Pam Zhang and UCLA Professor Safiya Noble canceled their appearances at the Rossier School of Education’s doctoral and master’s commencement ceremonies in a joint letter condemning the University’s decision to bar Tabassum from speaking. Many other speakers, including Jaren Lewison, who starred in the Netflix series “Never Have I Ever,” also canceled their appearances last minute.

After students expressed their disappointment and outrage over the cancellation, the University held a Trojan Family Graduate Celebration in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Thursday. The high-security event featured drone shows, fireworks, a performance from the Trojan Marching Band and a video of celebrities and community members wishing the Class of 2024 a happy graduation.  

  • Aaron Ogawa / Daily Trojan

The University held 47 commencement ceremonies and celebrations from Wednesday to Saturday, but all eyes were on the Viterbi School of Engineering undergraduate commencement ceremony — the one in which Tabassum would receive her diploma. 

The ceremony took place at Galen Center, which quickly filled with excited parents and soon-to-be alumni. Many students wore leis sold by street vendors and a handful donned keffiyehs to display their support for Palestine at the ceremony. 

Tabassum received thunderous applause when she obtained her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, with the rest of the biomedical engineering students giving their classmate a standing ovation.

The student speaker for the ceremony was Christian Bryan, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and business administration. Bryan said that when she was first choosing what to major in, Viterbi felt like a place where she “could be seen,” given the school’s Office of Diversity and Strategic Initiatives and women making up 50% of the entering class. Bryan also said that Viterbi had been “transformative” and that it taught her how endless her possibilities were.

“To my peers and my friends, instead of feeling restricted by the assumption that you can’t do it all, I ask you to take the skills that you’ve learned here and use them to uplift everything you want to become,” Bryan said. “I leave you with one of my favorite Latin quotes: per [aspera] ad astra, through adversity to the stars.”

  • Aaron Ogawa / Daily Trojan

Yannis Yortsos, the dean of Viterbi, spoke at the ceremony and congratulated the new graduates. He said students would go on to help solve poverty, limited access to clean water, and medical challenges with their engineering. He added that because future engineering projects would be so “human-centric,” engineers must not only have an outstanding education, but also possess “outstanding character.”

“As graduates of this 2024 Viterbi class, you will work along this double helix of technology and humanity with a human-centric purpose. You will help create a world that never was,” Yortsos said. “You are changing the conversation about engineering, who we are, what we do and what we look like … The world impatiently waits for you.”

Ivan Moreno, a senior who received a bachelor’s degree in astronautical engineering at the Viterbi commencement, said that the past year had been one of the most difficult for him, so he felt very accomplished at receiving his degree. Moreno said he was happy for himself but equally happy for his family, for whom the ceremony was very important. 

“The speakers were great, and the general enthusiasm from everyone graduating is great. I was very happy with it,” Moreno said. “Coming into graduation I felt the vibes were a little low given all the recent news, and people were expecting something to happen, unpleasant or not, but it was great.”

The Viterbi commencement concluded with about 10 members of the Trojan Marching Band playing through their fan favorites, and graduating seniors jumped at the chance to perform the popular football dances and cheers one last time. 

Eva Hartman contributed to this reporting. 

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