Several Northwestern graduates walk out of United Center during commencement

Eric Horng Image
Sunday, June 9, 2024
Several NU graduates walk out of United Center during commencement
Northwestern University Pres. Michael Schill has been under fire for his April agreement with protest organizers to end a pro-Palestinian encampment.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- At Northwestern University's 166th commencement on Sunday, there was an abundance of pomp, circumstance and pride.

"I'm feeling very proud," said Ann Miller, the parent of a graduate. "I think this class is, has shown a lot of resilience over the last four years, and I think they'll continue to."

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The more than 2,000 graduates were lauded at the United Center. This class of 2024, which entered the university during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, is now leaving Northwestern with the school embroiled in controversy.

"This has been a difficult year, but I want to focus on this moment right here," said Northwestern University President Michael Schill.

Schill has been under fire for his April agreement with protest organizers to end a pro-Palestinian encampment.

SEE ALSO | House Education Committee accuses Northwestern of obstructing antisemitism investigation

The school is now under Congressional investigation for its handling of antisemitism complaints, and there have been calls for Schill to resign.

"I think if you're a university president, you're going to always have that kind of stuff. I don't hold it against him, you know. I think he tried his best," said Russell Cox, the parent of a graduate.

During the commencement, Northwestern established a so-called "free speech zone" outside the United Center, and prior to the ceremony, there was an announcement that any disruption inside could lead to disciplinary action, including the withholding of degrees.

That didn't stop several dozen graduates from walking out during remarks by the school's Board of Trustees chair.

Along with their families, student gathered for a vigil outside the stadium.

READ MORE | Northwestern threatens disciplinary action as American, Israeli flags vandalized

"Our degrees are complicit, and especially in a ceremony that necessitates silence. That is something that we need to reject," said graduate Jordan Muhammad.

"To the trustees, we hope they know that we're going to continue to fight for disclosure and divestment, which was our original request," said Josh Fleckner, another graduate.

Inside, amid cheers and celebration, commencement speaker and actress Kathryn Hahn spoke of the complexities of the moment.

"Yes, there is unimaginable pain and suffering in this world. It is also true that you and your class are going through something together that is once in a lifetime and worthy of celebration," Hahn said.

SEE ALSO | Northwestern president testifies at Congressional hearing on alleged antisemitism at colleges