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Outrage Over Canceled USC Valedictorian Speech

The University of Southern California has canceled the valedictorian speech for its 2024 commencement ceremony due to safety concerns, prompting widespread criticism via social media from academicians who argue that the university is looking to restrict free speech.  

Dr. Andrew T. GuzmanDr. Andrew T. GuzmanThe concerns arose from criticisms and pushback regarding the university’s selected valedictorian, whose social media support of Palestine amid this latest Middle East conflict has reportedly stirred controversy.

USC officials say the result atmosphere makes a speech potentially unsafe for students, faculty, and families attending the ceremony.

“We seek to produce a ceremony that unites our community and celebrates the hard work and achievements of graduates from all our schools and programs,” read an April 15 letter from USC’s Office of the Provost.

Dr. Andrew T. Guzman, USC’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, wrote that commencement week is a the most challenging time of the year for our Department of Public Safety personnel; the main stage commencement at USC draws 65,000 people to the University Park Campus. He said discussion relating to the selection of our valedictorian took on “an alarming tenor” and “escalated to the point of creating substantial risks relating to security and disruption at commencement.”

“After careful consideration, we have decided that our student valedictorian will not deliver a speech at commencement,” Guzman wrote. “While this is disappointing, tradition must give way to safety. This decision is not only necessary to maintain the safety of our campus and students, but is consistent with the fundamental legal obligation – including the expectations of federal regulators – that universities act to protect students and keep our campus community safe.”

The letter stated that the university’s default position is to mitigate safety risks whenever possible to allow expression to flourish in accordance with USC’s Policy on Free Speech.

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