USC cancels all commencement speakers after canceled valedictorian speech

Famous speakers included director Jon M. Chu and tennis star Billie Jean King.

April 19, 2024, 10:02 PM

Amid the decision to cancel this year's valedictorian speech, the University of Southern California announced it would be eliminating all outside speakers and honorees from its main-stage commencement taking place next month.

In this March 12, 2019, file photo, the University of Southern California is shown in Los Angeles.
Reed Saxon/AP, FILE

In a memo released on Friday, the university said, "To keep the focus on our graduates, we are redesigning the commencement program. Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year's ceremony."

Scheduled keynote speakers included USC alumnus filmmaker Jon M. Chu, director of "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Wicked." Sports icon Billie Jean King was also scheduled to speak.

In this Dec. 16, 2023, file photo, Jon M. Chu attends a gala in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Emma Mcintyre/Getty Images, FILE

Asna Tabassum, a first-generation South Asian-American Muslim, was scheduled to give a commencement speech on May 10. School administrators, however, decided to cancel her speech citing safety concerns.

USC said the decision was based on potential threats regarding the selection of the valedictorian.

"After careful consideration, we have decided that our student valedictorian will not deliver a speech at commencement," provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at USC, Andrew T. Guzman, said in a letter to students on Monday. "While this is disappointing, tradition must give way to safety."

USC students participate in a silent march in support of Asna Tabassum, whose graduation speech has been cancelled by USC administration at University of Southern California, on April 18, 2024, in Los Angeles.
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The college senior spoke about the situation with ABC News Live's Phil Lipof on Wednesday.

"The valedictorian honor is ultimately a unifying honor, right? It's emblematic of USC's unifying values. And I think I take that to heart."

"I wanted my speech to be in the genre of a valedictory speech, and so that being said, I wanted to impart a message of hope. I also wanted to impart a message of responsibility," Tabassum said to Lipof.

USC -- which expects a crowd of 65,000 for the commencement festivities on May 10 -- said the focus of the ceremony should be "on the tremendous accomplishments of our 19,000-plus graduates, their friends, their families, and the staff and faculty who have been such a critical part of their journeys."

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