Dancing college grads dragged off stage, school apologizes for being 'inappropriately aggressive'

PHOTO: University of Florida President Kent Fuchs addresses students at one of the schools Spring 2018 commencement ceremonies. PlayThe University of Florida
WATCH College students pushed offstage at graduation

The University of Florida's apology has fallen short for some of the 21 graduates whom a school staff member yanked off the stage this weekend as they danced to celebrate their achievements during a spring commencement ceremony.

"In general, I don't think I've ever been handled in that manner, not even by my parents," Oliver Telusma, one of the students given the hook, told ABC News' "Good Morning America" on Monday. "It's kind of embarrassing, kind of degrading."

PHOTO: A university usher rushes a student off stage during a commencement ceremony.@ChicoFreedom/Twitter
A university usher rushes a student off stage during a commencement ceremony.

Another student, Nafeesah Attah, told "GMA" the dances were symbolic gestures of joy that had meaning rooted to their fraternities and sororities. She said the response of the white university staff member who grabbed her and the others and shoved them off stage "was not arbitrary."

"It was definitely contingent on your race ... other white students who were dancing were not perceived as a threat," Attah said.

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs acknowledged that the school had been "inappropriately aggressive" when rushing graduates across the stage Saturday, a videotaped incident that has stirred controversy online amid suggestions that the white usher was motivated by race because the students were black.

Fuchs apologized at another commencement ceremony Sunday.

"I want to personally apologize for us doing that on behalf of myself and also the University of Florida," Fuchs said.

PHOTO: University of Florida President Kent Fuchs addresses students at one of the schools Spring 2018 commencement ceremonies. The University of Florida
University of Florida President Kent Fuchs addresses students at one of the school's Spring 2018 commencement ceremonies.

Fuchs has also "personally called each of the students impacted to convey his apology and to let them know that the practice of physically interfering with students' celebrations to rush them across the stage has been stopped," a university spokeswoman said this afternoon.

Students who spoke to ABC News identified the staff member who forced them off stage as a chemistry professor, but school officials declined to confirm his identity.

In a message left on Telusma's phone, which was shared with ABC News, Fuchs said that a review of video showed 21 students were forced off stage.

"And based on our review of video, you were one of those 21 students, and I'm just appalled we did this to you and I personally apologize that this happened at the very time that we all should be celebrating your accomplishments and your time at the University of Florida," Fuchs said in the voicemail.

"And then, lastly, there was one specific staff member that was very aggressive ... in doing this, and we have asked our human resources and also this individual's college to investigate and to take appropriate action," Fuchs said in the message to Telusma.

PHOTO: A university usher rushes a student off stage during a commencement ceremony.@ChicoFreedom/Twitter
A university usher rushes a student off stage during a commencement ceremony.

But Attah and Telusma said Fuchs was on stage at the time of the incident and did nothing to stop the usher from ruining their milestone moment.

Attah, a part of the University of Florida's nearly 10,000-member spring 2018 graduating class, told ABC News her whole family had come from South Florida and London, and it was particularly hard for her younger sister to see her yanked off the stage.

"I kind of planned what I wanted to do on stage to celebrate my story, all of my hard work I'd done at the University of Florida," Attah said.

"I tried to do one of my stroll moves, but I was instantly, like, blocked by one of the officials on stage and they aggressively pushed me off the stage after that," she added. "So I was definitely disappointed they took that moment from me because I can only get my bachelor's once."

Telusma, a member of the Theta Sigma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, a predominantly black organization, said he had to shove the usher in order to break free of his grip.

Fuchs said the hands-on removal process would be banned from future ceremonies.

PHOTO: A university usher rushes a student off stage during a commencement ceremony.@ChicoFreedom/Twitter
A university usher rushes a student off stage during a commencement ceremony.

"The practice has been halted for all future ceremonies and we will work to make sure all graduating students know we are proud of their achievements and celebrate with them their graduation," Fuchs said.

University of Florida graduate Christopher Garcia-Wilde also said the usher appeared to shove only black students who wanted to celebrate on stage "by strolling, which is a cultural tradition in historically black fraternities and sororities." Other students who took slightly more time on stage were rushed, but not in an aggressive manner, he said.

PHOTO: A ceremony honoring the University of Floridas nearly 10,000-member Spring 2018 graduating class.The University of Florida
A ceremony honoring the University of Florida's nearly 10,000-member Spring 2018 graduating class.

"It's a tradition to stroll at graduation if you choose to, and people have been doing this for years," Garcia-Wilde, 22, told The Gainesville Sun Sunday. "I was actually too afraid [to stroll] because I saw him shove other people.

"But my two friends who graduated with me really wanted to do it, so they tried. They both were pushed and one of them got an entire bear hug," he added.

ABC News' Darren Reynolds contributed to this report.

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