LOS ANGELES — Following the publicized decision to cancel a commencement speech by a Muslim valedictorian, the University of Southern California said Friday it will have no outside speakers or honorees at the main stage commencement event.

“Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year’s ceremony,” USC said in a statement. University leadership will still speak.

The decision comes after the Los Angeles university was criticized by some, including valedictorian Asna Tabassum, over its decision to cancel Tabassum’s speech due to security concerns.

“Crazy Rich Asians” and “Wicked” film director Jon M. Chu, an alumnus of USC, was to give the keynote commencement address and was to receive an honorary degree, the university had announced. Tennis star Billie Jean King was among those to get an honorary degree.

Tabassum, a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in resistance to genocide, said she was shocked and disappointed.

She said that she felt abandoned by USC and that the university was “caving to fear and rewarding hatred.”

At least two pro-Israel and Jewish groups complained to USC about the choice of Tabassum as valedictorian, pointing to her Instagram account, which links to a slideshow encouraging people to “learn about what’s happening in palestine, and how to help.”

It calls for “one palestinian state,” which it says “would mean palestinian liberation, and the complete abolishment of the state of israel.” 

Tabassum has she said added the link on her social media account five years ago and was not the author, according to NBC Los Angeles.

The Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations was among those that condemned USC’s decision to cancel her speech.

Protests have been held both on and off college campuses across the United States following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas against Israel, where more than 1,200 people were killed, and Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza that health authorities there say have killed more than 30,000 people.

USC said Friday that those who were to receive honorary degrees will hopefully be awarded them at a future commencement or other academic event.

Tabassum said that she “was hoping to use my commencement speech to inspire my classmates with a message of hope.”

She said in a statement that she is imploring students at USC “to work towards a world where cries for equality and human dignity are not manipulated to be expressions of hatred.”

The May 10 commencement event, which will celebrate 19,000-plus graduates, is expected to draw around 65,000 people to the campus in the University Park section of Los Angeles, according to USC.


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