Xavier University cancels UN ambassador’s commencement speech after student outcry

FILE - United States Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses members of the U.N. Security Council, April 24, 2024, at United Nations headquarters. Xavier University has reversed course and canceled a planned commencement address on Saturday, May 11, 2024 by Thomas-Greenfield after news of her appearance sparked outrage among some students. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File) (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW ORLEANS – Xavier University of Louisiana has reversed course and canceled Saturday's planned commencement address by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield after news of her appearance sparked outrage among some students.

University President Reynold Verret announced the decision in an email Wednesday to faculty, staff and students.

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“Everyone’s goal is to have a commencement ceremony that appropriately honors the graduates and their achievements,” Verret wrote. “The vast majority of students want to be able to enjoy a commencement ceremony free of disruptions. Therefore, we will not be moving forward with the commencement speaker as originally planned.”

Students were outraged over Thomas-Greenfield's invitation to speak because of their opposition to the past positions by the U.S. on the war in Gaza. Before presenting a March resolution to the U.N.’s Security Council that called for an “immediate and sustained ceasefire in Gaza,” the U.S. vetoed three other cease-fire resolutions proposed by other countries.

In explaining one veto, Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. could not support cease-fire resolutions that do not mention Israel’s right to self-defense; in explaining another, she said the U.S. could not support a cease-fire until Hamas freed hostages it took during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Verret called the cancellation a “regrettable conclusion” and said the decision was made in partnership with the ambassador.

Thomas-Greenfield did not comment on the decision. She faced similar backlash at the University of Vermont, where she was set to deliver the commencement address May 19. Pro-Palestinian student protesters called for the school to cancel her speech, citing the vetoed cease-fire resolutions. The school announced Friday that she would not be speaking.

Xavier Student Government Association President Chase Patterson, who had written a letter to administrators calling on them to reconsider their commencement choice, applauded Verret’s decision to listen to their concerns.

“We are grateful that President Verret actually listened to our call,” Patterson told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. “This does make me optimistic that students will continue to support us and we will continue to support them and that the administration will continue to listen to us.”

Though many students and others spoke out against the invitation, Verret said many still believe that Thomas-Greenfield’s contribution to the ceremony would have been meaningful, the newspaper reported.

“We look forward to welcoming the ambassador to campus in the future to engage with our students and faculty in substantive conversations,” he said.

The graduation ceremony is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at the university's Convocation Center. Verret did not say whether there will be a new speaker to fill Thomas-Greenfield's spot.

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