‘The People’s Graduation’ Celebrates Dozens in Denver During Pro-Palestine Ceremony

Denver, CO β€” On Sunday afternoon, more than 100 people gathered on the Tivoli Quad at the Auraria Campus to witness and celebrate the dozens of graduates and student activists who participated in “The People’s Graduation” organized by the campus’ pro-Palestine solidarity encampment that’s been ongoing since April 25, 2024.

The commencement ceremony honored “both the people who have been offered degrees by the institutions here as well as the students who made this camp possible,” according to Z Williams with Bread and Roses Legal Center, who kicked off Sunday’s event. The graduation was part of the National Students for Justice in Palestine campaign called “The Popular University for Gaza,” therefore, before the students’ names on each of the diplomas that were handed out, they say, “The People’s Popular University for Gaza proudly confers the graduation of: [insert name].”

More than 100 people gathered on the Tivoli Quad at the Auraria Campus on May 12, 2024 for the pro-Palestine alternative graduation ceremony called “The People’s Graduation.” Photo taken by Alex Binder for Unicorn Riot.

A quote by radical leftist activist, scholar and author, Dr. Angela Davis, adorns each diploma as well. The quote is from when Davis visited the Auraria Campus encampment on April 27, saying, “As you imagine this period being narrated 10 years, 20 years, 50 years from now, you will be the historical actors who made it possible for a breakthrough in the struggle against Zionism, the struggle to free Palestine.”

Khalid Hamu, a student organizer, holds up their diploma from The People’s Popular University for Gaza after the ceremony on May 12, 2024. Photo taken by Alex Binder for Unicorn Riot.

On a social media post about the graduation ceremony, organizers wrote that they were holding the event to offer “an alternative to having to accept a diploma from those who wish to not only do nothing about a genocide, but support it.”

“Before we start celebrating, I want to remind us all why we are here. We are here because there’s a genocide being waged on the people of Gaza by Israel,” Williams proclaimed to those at Sunday’s commencement.

Williams mentioned how since 1948, Palestine has faced “the violent and persistent persecution of an imperialist-settler state,” and since October 7, when the “obliteration against the people of Gaza” intensified, more than 35,000 Palestinian people have been killed, including more than 14,500 children.

Sunday was also Mother’s Day in the United States, and Williams stated that “in Gaza, over 6,000 mothers have been murdered by Israel. There are 19,000 children without mothers right now.”

“This entire genocidal conquest of Palestine is being funded and underwritten by the United States, including by the institutions that surround us. Shame! Shame on CU Denver! Shame on MSU Denver!”

Z Williams, Bread and Roses Legal Center

Metropolitan State University (MSU) of Denver Graduate Saoirse Ginny Ocean Maloney spoke at the commencement, saying how she attended the MSU Denver commencement on Friday, and when she walked across the stage to shake MSU President Dr. Janine Davidson’s hand, she “poured blood on it, to remind her of what she’s complicit in.” Maloney continued: “A goddamn genocide!”

Fellow student activists and community members participated in disruptions at the MSU Denver and University of Colorado (CU) Denver commencement ceremonies, as shown below.

Maloney shared how her degree is in history as a secondary social studies teacher, and how what drew her “into this was when the schools in Gaza closed down. When children, babies, were not allowed to get their education, and in fact, were murdered in their schools by bombs, by missiles, by IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces].”

“They deserve to have a childhood that is not denied to them, but our nation, our university is participating in and denying and murdering their childhoods.”

MSU Denver Graduate Saoirse Ginny Ocean Maloney
A banner reading “How Many Children is Enough?” is staked into the ground of the Tivoli Quad with two small figures wrapped in white cloth laying in front to represent murdered children. Hundreds of small white flags are staked in the ground behind the banner, representing Palestinian lives lost by Israeli bombings of Gaza. Photo taken by Alex Binder for Unicorn Riot.

Two MSU professors spoke at Sunday’s commencement β€” Professor dena harry saleh (saleh uses all lowercase as a rule) and Professor Alex Boodrookas.

Professor saleh, who teaches in the Gender Institute of Teaching and Advocacy (GITA) at MSU Denver, is Palestinian and they told the crowd at the commencement that their “dad survived the Nakba when he was six years old.”

The IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] came in the middle of the night and kicked his family out of his home. Shame. They burned his house down. He was six years old and he had to walk with his seven siblings and his parents, they walked to Syria. They couldn’t get in. They walked to Lebanon, they couldn’t get in.

They went to Nazareth and were one of the 750,000 displaced people, internally displaced people, of Falastin [Palestine in Arabic], and my dad said, ‘No, I will not live like this, I will not live as a ‘second class citizen’ on my land.’

So then he came to this land. And now, this land, this government is killing our people and our tax dollars are paying for it. That ain’t right!”

MSU Denver Professor dena harry saleh
A banner reading “Let Gaza Live” is staked into the ground of the Tivoli Quad with multiple small figures wrapped in white cloth laying in front to represent murdered children. Hundreds of small white flags are staked in the ground behind the banner, representing Palestinian lives lost by Israeli bombings of Gaza. Photo taken by Alex Binder for Unicorn Riot.

Professor Boodrookas was arrested on April 26 at the Auraria Campus solidarity encampment when the Denver Police Department was called to break up the camp by the Auraria Higher Education Center, leading to 44 arrests of students, community members and faculty.

“As a historian,” Boodrookas said on Sunday, “I can’t name a single revolution that’s taken place in the past 200 years, in which students did not play a central role.”

Boodrookas pointed out how when funds for education are cut, universities become “more and more complicit in arms manufacturing and dependent on big donors who feel entitled to dictate what we teach and learn.”

“As terrible as the past few months have been, I have never been more hopeful that justice will eventually prevail because of your courage and your actions. What you have done in the broadest sense, is to demonstrate what we will do for one another, you have taken real risks, made real sacrifices, and faced real consequences in order to do what is right.”

MSU Denver Professor Alex Boodrookas

The Auraria Campus is home to three different educational institutions β€” CU Denver, MSU Denver, and Community College of Denver β€” however the pro-Palestine solidarity encampment only has demands for CU and MSU. The demands, which can be read in full at the Students for a Democratic Society Denver website here, include that both universities fully divest from any corporations which operate in Israel.

The number of arrests and citations stemming from the Auraria Campus encampment is now at approximately 80. Since the mass arrest on April 26, there have been three sit-ins where arrests were made, one on May 7 at the MSU Denver Aerospace and Engineering Sciences building, which according to student activists, manufactures weapons for Lockheed Martin on-site (14 arrests, watch our coverage here of the press conference) and one on May 13 at the CU Denver Bursar’s Office (approximately 10 arrests). The third was happening at the time of this article’s publication on May 14 around 5:20 p.m. local time inside the Tivoli Student Union. There were around 12 citations given, including to the legal observer and the police liaison.

Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that contracts with the U.S. government to manufacture weapons, fighter jets, and other technologies. Their materials are given to Israel by the U.S. to bomb Palestine.

According to a Lockheed Martin press release touting their $1 million grant to MSU Denver in 2017, the company said that they “and MSU Denver have a long-standing partnership focused on developing manufacturing talent and technologies.”

Unicorn Riot reached out to the MSU Denver Media Relations team for comment on the relationship between Lockheed Martin and the university. Tim Carroll, the senior director of media and public relations at MSU Denver, said that “it would be pure propaganda to imply that anything beyond satellite components and aerospace support materials are being produced on campus.”

Satellite imagery is used, in part, during wars to surveil areas and pinpoint targets, and aerospace technologies can constitute fighter jets, so Unicorn Riot asked Carroll to elaborate on whether there was any way to know what the MSU Denver students are actually contributing to. Unicorn Riot did not receive a response by press time.

Carroll also mentioned a “co-op program with Lockheed Martin that has enabled more than 90 students to gain paid experience in fields such as software development, computer programming, machine learning/AI and engineering.”

Khalid Hamu, one of the student organizers of the Auraria Campus solidarity encampment, during a video interview with Unicorn Riot. Photo taken by Alex Binder for Unicorn Riot.

One of the student organizers of the Auraria Campus solidarity encampment, Khalid Hamu, spoke with Unicorn Riot during a video interview, saying that the university administrations have been trying to get them to take the camp down.

Hamu said, “When you tell us to take down the camps, you’re telling us to protest in a way that’s easier for you to ignore.” However, Hamu and the other students told the administrations if they want the camp and tents to go down, the students could take them down in five minutes, as long as their demands are met first.

There are multiple pro-Palestine college encampment protests happening across Colorado, and dozens across the nation and the world. At least for the one on the Auraria Campus, the students plan to stay for as long as it takes.

For more from Palestine and pro-Palestine protests, click on link below.

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