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Protesters at University of Chicago Graduation Brutally Attacked but Students Remained Defiant

“My diploma doesn’t matter when there are people in Palestine and in Gaza that will never walk a stage again...”

A loud and bold message was delivered by hundreds of students, alumni, and faculty at the University of Chicago’s 2024 graduation ceremony. They demanded UChicago stop its denial of diplomas to four pro-Palestine graduating student activists and they delivered a powerful message to stop the U.S.-Israeli genocide in Gaza. In the face of UChicago’s repression, including shutting down two pro-Palestine encampments and now threatening the futures of four activist students, people carried out brave actions on the day students are supposed to be all about celebrating their own bright futures.

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After UChicago president Paul Alivisatos began his address at the official graduation ceremony inside the Quad, chants of “Let them graduate!” and “Stop the genocide!” erupted. Hundreds of students and faculty, some waving Palestinian flags and many wearing keffiyehs, walked out of the ceremony.

“Let them graduate!” referred to four students being denied their degrees to punish them for involvement in the pro-Palestine encampment that was raided and shut down by University of Chicago police. One of the four students is Youssef Hasweh, who released a statement on graduation day saying, “My diploma doesn’t matter when there are people in Palestine and in Gaza that will never walk a stage again, who will never receive a diploma. What about them? Who’s going to fight for them?”

University of Chicago pro-Palestinian protest with banner "All Eyes on Rafah" May 30, 2024.


University of Chicago pro-Palestinian protest at graduation, May 30, 2024.   

Chicago, Kelly Hui, speaks about UChicago denying her her diploma because of her pro-Palestinian actions.


Kelly Hui speaks about University of Chicago denying her her diploma, May 30, 2024.    Photo: screengrab from IG

Those walking out of the graduation joined others to march across campus, despite heavy rain and being flanked by police. This march was hard to ignore, seen by many families coming to the graduation as well as seen in the media. We marched to another entrance of the Quad where we were met by UChicago riot police behind barricades. Not intimidated, protesters were determined to take their demands into the Quad. The UCPD violently attacked the march, jumping past their own barricades to brutalize protesters. Cops pepper sprayed several people in their faces so severely that students and alums used keffiyehs, then sanitary pads, to stop the chemical from dripping down their hair and into their eyes. Also, one protester was arrested.

Another of the four students being denied her diploma addressed the crowd at the barricade and wore a sign saying “No grads in Gaza & U of C is withholding my degree for protesting.” 

UChicago has always prided itself on its reputation as a model of free speech and academic freedom. In what stands as a remarkable self-exposure of both this university as well as the content of academic freedom in this society more generally, university officials released a statement saying they are “committed to upholding the rights of students to express a wide range of views.” This was at a graduation where four students were denied their degrees for protesting genocide, on the very Quad where a pro-Palestine encampment was raided in the middle of the night and shut down for no possible reason other than its political message, and where across the Quad from the graduation, students were being attacked and pepper sprayed. And all of this was happening as the U.S.-backed Israeli massacres and starvation in Gaza escalate. 

The Revcom Corps for the Emancipation of Humanity joined the protest, and they distributed A Crucial Crossroads in the Struggle to STOP the U.S.-Israeli Genocide of Palestinians… A Historic Moment in the World. How Do We Go Forward?

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