New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

‘Not celebratory’: GLS valedictorian not permitted to deliver pro-Palestinian speech at graduation

The student told WSN they did not want to write a speech “tailored towards the sensitivities of the administration.”
Camila Ceballos
(Camila Ceballos for WSN)

This year’s valedictorian in Global Liberal Studies was not permitted to deliver a speech at the program’s graduation ceremony — which criticized NYU’s ties to Israel, disciplinary action brought against student and faculty protesters, and police presence on campus — after the school’s dean said the speech was “not celebratory.”

In the speech obtained by WSN, the student condemned NYU’s study away site in Tel Aviv, claiming it “was built on the razed ruins” of a Palestinian village. The student, who requested to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, also noted the university’s “financial connections with companies aiding in genocide,” citing NYU’s connection to the multi-trillion dollar investment company BlackRock — whose CEO Laurence Fink sits on the university’s board of trustees. The student claimed that the company is “one of the biggest investors in the companies manufacturing weapons for the genocide in Palestine.” 

“I didn’t particularly want to write a speech in the first place since I felt that I had nothing good to say about NYU at that moment,” the student told WSN. “I ended up writing one mostly about how I actually felt about NYU which I knew would likely not be accepted. I was expecting that the dean might ask that I rewrite or edit but she did not, only saying that ‘I cannot allow you to speak at the ceremony.’”

After the student submitted their speech, associate dean Jonathon White wrote in an email to the student that LS dean Julie Mostov wanted to meet with them. In the April 8 meeting, Mostov told the student she “won’t be able” to let them speak at the program’s graduation ceremony, which took place at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts last Tuesday.

“Your speech was not celebratory,” Mostov told the student in a recording of the meeting obtained by WSN. “It’s possible that you felt like you couldn’t write one, because you’re angry about the way NYU has treated some of its students, some of the ways in which you feel that you may have been treated and some of NYU’s politics. But this is not the place nor the moment, because it’s not for you.”

Mostov also told the student that she was worried that people “would have attacked” them for their speech, or “for ruining their graduation or for differing with” their opinions. She added that many graduates “will remember this moment for the rest of their lives” and that she didn’t want the student to “take that away from them.”

Divestment from companies with ties to Israel has been one of the key demands of campus demonstrations in the past few months, including the Gaza Solidarity Encampments at Gould Plaza and the Paulson Center. In a previous statement to WSN, NYU said that it is not considering divestment from companies with ties to Israel, and the university has continuously rejected calls to shut down its study away site in Tel Aviv. 

In their speech, the student also condemned New York City Police Department officers “stationed in and around NYU buildings” for the “purpose of surveilling students” participating in pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus. The uptick in police presence came after the university authorized the NYPD to sweep both pro-Palestinian encampments on campus, which led to the arrests of dozens of students and faculty.

The student also denounced the university’s recent usage of disciplinary action against students and faculty. This past semester, NYU terminated a postdoctoral instructor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences for ripping down posters of hostages taken by Hamas. A first-year student was also suspended for taking down hostage posters on campus, now suing the university for allegedly misapplying its conduct policies.

“I’ve seen students receive disciplinary threats, be suspended or have their funding taken away for peaceful political action and speech,” the speech reads. “I’ve seen professors be suspended for reading poetry out loud in the library or for posting things on Instagram. I’ve seen other professors be secretive about speaking up against genocide for fear that they might get fired.”

Earlier this semester, the university suspended a Gallatin professor after a video of him criticizing media coverage of Hamas amid Israel’s ongoing siege in Gaza surfaced online. It also suspended a Steinhardt professor following complaints about his social media posts in which he had refused to condemn Hamas for the violence in the war. 

The student also addressed NYU’s contract with Nike amid the company’s wage theft allegations in its Bangkok factory, Hong Seng Knitting. Since October, NYU’s chapter of the labor rights movement Pay Your Workers has continuously held protests demanding that NYU cut its ties with the company, which provides the NYU Bookstore with Nike-branded merchandise. In response to ongoing student demands, the university administration sent a letter to Nike in April asking for it to address the allegations.

In a written statement to WSN, Mostov said the student “did not push back” on not being able to speak at the ceremony. The student told WSN that they chose not to push back against the administration because they “didn’t want to write a speech that would be more tailored towards the sensitivities of the administration.”

“This is an honor that comes with an obligation to provide a speech that is reflective of the GLS experience and the future ahead, expressing concerns about current challenges, but inspiring for all students and celebratory; the speech submitted didn’t meet that standard,” Mostov wrote. “Commencement is a special day for all students and families, and recognizing this is part of the responsibility of the speaker. As dean, it’s my duty to try to facilitate this.”

At the University of Southern California, this year’s valedictorian was similarly not permitted to give a speech at the university’s commencement ceremony, with the administration citing “safety concerns.” 

Despite not allowing the student to speak at the graduation ceremony, Mostov noted that the student was still recognized as valedictorian during the event’s procession. She added that the event was still “filled with expressions of concern over current challenges, including the tragedies in Palestine, Sudan and elsewhere.”

“These four years are, as is the rest of your life, more than what I, or NYU, tells you it is,” the student wrote in the speech. “I hope that wherever we go, our global perspective, our thinking beyond the borders, is different from that which NYU is promoting now. I hope that it does not build itself on the repression of communities or on stolen land.”

Contact Bruna Horvath at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Bruna Horvath
Bruna Horvath, News Editor
Bruna Horvath is a sophomore studying journalism and English at CAS. When she’s not a News Editor, she’s a "Gone Girl" enthusiast, a Goodreads lover, and a Barnes & Noble frequenter. You can usually find her ordering an iced mocha, telling people her name is “Bruna” not “Bruno,” or on Instagram @brunaahorvath.
Camila Ceballos
Camila Ceballos, Multimedia Editor
Camila Ceballos is a sophomore majoring in International Relations and minoring in Social Entrepreneurship. She is not Camila Cabello, and be careful not to confuse them, or else. In her free time, she likes to take her camera everywhere and take pictures of people and places in New York. Camila's current purpose in life are photo essays and NYFW. She's always down to go to yoga or talk about the NBA (especially the Lakers), so talk to her at [email protected] and follow her at @camilaceballoss to give her some clout.

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