Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are organizing an Alternative Commencement Ceremony to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2012 without symbolically honoring New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will speak at the official University commencement on May 13th.
Students decided to organize the ceremony in light of Bloomberg’s support for what became a violent eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park, and the NYPD’s repression of credentialed journalists who attempted to enter the park during the eviction process. The students also take issue with Bloomberg’s handling of New York City public schools, for which he has received harsh criticism from teachers, parents, and community members. Organizers are further concerned by the recently exposed NYPD blanket surveillance of Muslim student groups and community centers across the northeast, and most recently by Bloomberg’s public support for the financial giant Goldman Sachs, which has been implicated in manipulative and fraudulent banking practices which contributed to the financial collapse of 2007.
Protesters argue that a commencement address is different from other speaking engagements on campus in that the address is not a space for open dialogue between varying points of view, but rather is intended to give parting words of wisdom to graduating students. Commencement speakers also receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, a symbolic means by which the university honors the speaker. As undergraduate Kari Dahlgren put it: “The people we honor are people who have accumulated massive amounts of wealth and power, and instead we think we should be honoring people who are working to build a better world.”
The speakers at the Alternative Commencement include Kathy Kelly, three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and current organizer of the program “Voices for Creative Nonviolence;” Charles Eisenstein, faculty member of the Health Arts and Sciences program at Goddard College and author of the book “Sacred Economics;” and Richard Muhammad, a dedicated organizer with Occupy Wall Street and a member of the OWS Think Tank Working Group and the Global Democracy Alliance Group.
So far, student organizers have received positive responses from students and faculty members across campus; many students have RSVP’d to attend the ceremony, and organizers plan to have faculty members lead a ceremonial tassel-turning to close the ceremony.
The only thing threatening the plans, student organizers say, is sufficient funding to pull off the effort. The group is thus looking to community members who support the intention of the ceremony to help make it happen. Donations can be made by visiting www.alternativeunc.com and clicking on ‘show support.’