In one final act of defiance, New College of Florida students plan to hold their own graduation ceremony Thursday, eschewing an official commencement that organizers said felt disrespectful to the college community.
The Commencement On Our Terms event caps off a tumultuous five months for the Sarasota liberal arts school that began in January when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six new trustees with a mission to overhaul the school’s culture.
Last week, New College officials announced that Scott Atlas, a controversial COVID-19 adviser to former President Donald Trump, will speak at the school’s official event Friday. The decision to feature Atlas, who has no ties to the New College community, felt like a “slap in the face” to students whose education was upended by the pandemic, said alternative commencement organizer Madi Markham.
Instead, the alternative celebration will feature civil rights activist Maya Wiley, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“Graduating students deserve a keynote speaker who respects and aligns with New College’s student body values, which we believe Maya Wiley exemplifies,” said Markham, who is graduating with a degree in sociology and gender studies.
Helene Gold, the associate dean of academic engagement and information librarian who was recently fired by the school, will also speak at the event.
Organizers had raised over $100,000 for the event as of Tuesday morning, well surpassing the initial $35,000 goal. The remaining funds will go toward supporting campus organizations and activities for the coming years, said New College alum Brian Cody, who helped organize the fundraising.
The alternative commencement will kick off at 6 p.m. Thursday at an art gallery in Sarasota. Due to space limitations, the event is closed to the public.
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