With Speakers Missing and Security High, U.S.C. Tries to Save Its Graduation

Few West Coast universities rival the pomp of the University of Southern California’s commencements. Flags fly. Trumpets blare. Tens of thousands of relatives from around the world fill the Los Angeles campus, cheering for newly minted alumni. There are catered luncheons under chandeliers and Very Important Speakers: Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, took the stage last year to the “Avengers” theme song before delivering the commencement address.

This week, however, the pageantry has been sorely tested, barraged by weeks of campus protest and controversy. The Class of 2024 will have no grand main-stage commencement, no Hollywood executive dispensing wisdom to graduates from across the university.

While smaller celebrations will go on at the university’s 23 schools and academic units, at least two keynote speakers have publicly withdrawn from the school of education’s commencement, and others have quietly pulled out at the last minute.

The school of dramatic arts confirmed Monday that Liza Colón-Zayas, who plays Tina on the FX series “The Bear,” “is no longer able to join us.” The actor Jaren Lewison, of the Netflix series “Never Have I Ever,” is rethinking his commitment to address thousands of graduates at two large commencements for the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, according to a representative who spoke on condition of anonymity earlier this week. Two of three speakers at the engineering school’s ceremony disappeared abruptly from the school’s graduation website.

U.S.C. students protested the canceled valedictorian address of Asna Tabassum.Credit…Aude Guerrucci/Reuters

The verdant campus — ordinarily covered with rows of folding chairs at this time of year, as if for a mass wedding — has been closed to noncredentialed visitors behind a system of T.S.A.-like checkpoints. Movement will be tightly controlled at commencement. Families of graduates will need special digital tickets to move among venues. Bags will be searched and banners, beach umbrellas, selfie sticks and other equipment that might be repurposed for political protest will be confiscated.

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