Outrage at Decision to Deny Diplomas to 13 Pro-Palestine Students Overshadows Harvard Commencement


More than 1,000 people walked out of Harvard’s Commencement on Thursday, as mass discontent over the decision to bar 13 pro-Palestine College student protesters from graduating overshadowed a day filled with pomp and circumstance.

Two student speakers both deviated from their prepared remarks to voice support for the 13 seniors who were denied diplomas and condemn University officials who mostly sat expressionless onstage.

Shruthi Kumar ’24, who delivered the Senior English Address, pulled a folded piece of paper from her graduation robe before going off-script to acknowledge her classmates whose diplomas were being withheld.

“I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and the right to civil disobedience on campus,” she said. “The students had spoken. The faculty had spoken.”


“Harvard, do you hear us?” Kumar shouted to roaring applause and a standing ovation.

Kumar referenced a decision by the Harvard Corporation on Wednesday to reject an effort by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to add the 13 denied students back onto the list of degree conferral recommendations.

The Harvard College Administrative Board — the College’s main disciplinary body — suspended five students and placed at least 20 others on probation for their involvement in the pro-Palestine encampment in the Yard, charges that many students and faculty members criticized as excessive and a break with past precedent.

A large-scale pro-Palestine protest was something of a foregone conclusion on Thursday, so widely expected by students and administrators alike that it could just as well have been added to the official Commencement program.

“As our ceremony proceeds, some among us may choose to take the liberty of expressing themselves to draw attention to events unfolding in the wider world,” said interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 at the start of the ceremony.

“It is their right to do so,” he added. “But it is their responsibility to do so with our community — and this occasion — in mind.”

Garber and his opening remarks were met with loud booing from the audience.

The University also quietly modified its typical Commencement schedule to prepare for the possibility of a protest. Garber and members of the University’s governing boards did not participate in their usual procession through the Yard, instead unceremoniously making their way onstage from a side entrance.

Despite some modifications to the usual traditions, the ceremony largely proceeded without interruption until Garber began to confer degrees on graduating students. Attendees then got up from their seats en masse and marched out of the Yard while chanting, “Let them walk,” many of whom used their regalia to make pro-Palestine statements, with graduation caps stating “free, free Palestine” and “disclose divest.”


The protesters marched from the Yard to Epworth Church, where Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — the unrecognized student group that organized the three-week encampment in Harvard Yard — held a “People’s Commencement” honoring the 13 who were denied their degrees.

Attendees of the “People’s Commencement” were given certificates addressed to “Members of the Student Movement.”

“In honor of the students in Palestine who will not get to graduate because of the ongoing Nakba. We stand up for them and our own students who have been targeted by Harvard University and are unable to graduate today,” the certificate stated.

Following the degree conferrals and honorary degree portion of the ceremony, Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Maria A. Ressa addressed graduates in a speech that focused on the influence of Big Tech on disinformation and her personal experience as a journalist who faced oppression from an authoritarian Philippine government.

In an awkward scene that unfolded at the end of the ceremony, Harvard Chabad Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi confronted Ressa as Matthew Ichihashi Potts — the Pusey Minister in Memorial Church — delivered the benediction. Zarchi then stormed off the stage as Potts continued speaking.

Zarchi said in an interview after the ceremony that he confronted Ressa because he believed a portion of her remarks — when she described facing accusations of antisemitism after agreeing to serve as Harvard’s Commencement speaker — to be antisemitic.

Ressa had said she was “attacked online and called antisemitic by power and money because they want power and money.”

Moments later, after Potts finished his benediction, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian formally adjourned the meeting — officially concluding the most tense and divisive Commencement in recent memory, during a year marked by tensions and divisions on Harvard’s campus.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.