Weekend of graduation ceremonies begins at California universities without major war protests

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A weekend of commencement ceremonies at a half-dozen California universities was underway Friday with no immediate sign of the major campus protests against the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza that have led to clashes with police and numerous arrests.

Officials appealed for the graduates to be celebrated without disruptions at schools including the University of California's campuses in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, where major protests occurred in recent weeks.

“Our greatest hope is that UCLA students and the beauty of this milestone moment is the main focus of these ceremonies,” said May Osako, UCLA vice chancellor for strategic communications, in a statement to the university community.

A similar message was issued at UC Santa Cruz, where Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Lori Kletzer, the provost and executive vice chancellor, announced that they would not attend ceremonies in hope of preventing protests targeting them.

“You and your families have worked too many hours and spent considerable resources to make this day happen,” they wrote. “We do not want our presence at commencement to distract from families and friends recognizing and celebrating your accomplishment.”

Commencement events were also occurring through the weekend and into next week at the UC system's Davis, Riverside, San Diego and Santa Barbara campuses.

At a UCLA ceremony, an announcement asking for no disruptions was applauded.

There was also a cheer when a speaker from the graduating class, Camryn Redmond, referenced “the enduring struggles faced by Indigenous communities worldwide, from Los Angeles to Gaza.”

On the other side of the city, damage was still being assessed at California State University, Los Angeles, where pro-Palestinian demonstrators from an encampment occupied and trashed a building this week before abandoning it.

Cal State LA President Berenecea Johnson Eanes said Thursday that the protesters had crossed a line and the encampment must go, but did not set a deadline.

The encampment remained in place Friday, campus spokesperson Erik Frost Hollins said.

“We are not at this time, for safety reasons, sharing plans, tactics or timing,” Frost Hollins said. “The president has made clear that the situation will not be allowed to remain and has expressed to those in camp that they need to decamp and leave.”

The number of people in the camp has typically ranged from the 10s to 20s but swelled to between 50 and 100 when the building takeover occurred Wednesday, Frost Hollins said.

John Antczak, The Associated Press