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Xavier cancels commencement speech by UN ambassador after students object

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
U.S. Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses members of the U.N. Security Council on April 24, 2024, at United Nations headquarters. Xavier University has reversed course and canceled a planned commencement address on Saturday, May 11, 2024 by Thomas-Greenfield after news of her appearance sparked outrage among some students.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations will no longer speak at Xavier University's graduation ceremony this weekend.

Just four days after announcing Linda Thomas-Greenfield would give the school’s commencement speech, and under pressure from students, university officials announced the change of plans. Students and alumni objected to her selection due to the ambassador’s voting record on Israel’s war in Gaza.

As the U.S. representative to the UN, Thomas-Greenfield vetoed three ceasefire resolutions earlier this year. The country’s stance has changed since, and in March, she presented a resolution to the UN Security Council that called for an “immediate and sustained ceasefire in Gaza.”

A petition started by the head of Xavier’s Muslim student association — signed by nearly 1,800 people — argued the ambassador’s actions did not align with Xavier’s mission to promote a more just and humane society. The students also pointed to the death toll in Gaza, now upward of 34,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

“Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield … has allowed for the continuation of systematic oppression, and does not represent our student body,” the petition says. “Moreover, her presence poses a potential source of disruption in what should otherwise be a day of celebration.”

In an email to Xavier’s community, the school’s president, Reynold Verret, said he spoke with the ambassador’s team and they decided together that she will no longer speak.

“Everyone’s goal is to have a commencement ceremony that appropriately honors the graduates and their achievements,” Verret said, adding that students deserve a ceremony free from controversy and that he hoped to welcome her on campus in the future.

Xavier has not yet named a replacement speaker. Commencement is this Saturday.

Graduation ceremonies at other schools have been altered and even cancelled, in the case of Columbia University in New York, following pro-Palestinian protests and encampments and resulting police involvement.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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