Last December, a group of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created a Change.org petition to prevent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg from delivering the May commencement address. The students were outraged by the brutality he visited upon Occupy Wall Street, including the arrest of credentialed journalists. Though many students signed, neither Chancellor Holden Thorp nor the commencement committee moved to revoke his invitation. So an Alternative Commencement was organized instead. Below is the students’ declaration to hold an independent graduation ceremony.
Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are organizing an Alternative Commencement Ceremony for students, parents and the larger community 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 13.
We 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 intentional repression of credentialed journalists who attempted to enter the park during the eviction process. We 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.
We 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.
Student organizers emphasize 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 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.
Organizer Kari Dahlgren said UNC should pick speakers for Commencement who don’t adhere to the political-economic status quo.
“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,” Dahlgren said.
The speakers at the Alternative Commencement will include Kathy Kelly, a 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.
“Sacred Economics, the book that (Eisenstein) wrote, deals with the way that we define value and the way that we spend money and the way that we relate to one another,” member Alanna Davis said.
“This topic of value has really become more pertinent recently as we focus on our economy and think about what money really means.”
The alternative option has not sparked controversy among those working on the University-sponsored ceremony at Kenan Stadium, and the group does not plan to disrupt or protest the official ceremony.
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.
We are seeking financial assistance from community members who support the intention of the ceremony, and have set up a We-pay account to reimburse speakers for travel and lodging and to pay for printing programs and renting the outdoor Forest Theatre on campus. Donations can be made by going here and clicking on “show support.”