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The Independent

Students at Florida college targeted by Ron DeSantis will hold alternative graduation ceremony

By Namita Singh,


Students of the New College of Florida have planned to host an alternative graduation ceremony to oppose what they said was the “hostile takeover” of the institution through conservative trustees appointed by Ron DeSantis earlier this year.

The graduation, which will be separate from the official ceremony, is being organised by New College seniors, with support from the alumni-run Novo Collegian Alliance, which has a little more than $105,000 of the $130,000 funding goal for the ceremony through their GoFundMe page.

Called “[New] Commencement: On Our Terms”, the event “is an alternative commencement and grad celebration led by students, for students, and against the hostile takeover of New College of Florida”, according to the GoFundMe page .

Governor DeSantis appointed six new members to the Board of Trustees in January, leading to backlash from students who opposed the views of the conservatives. The tapping of Scott Atlas as the speaker for the graduation ceremony on Friday also became a flashpoint between students and the administration.

A controversial figure, Dr Atlas served as top adviser to Donald Trump during the Covid-19 pandemic and often provided views contradictory to medical professionals .

The board, however, hailed his resume as “impressive” while announcing him as the speaker at the commencement ceremony.

“Dr Atlas’s perspective and resume are impressive; he is a champion and fighter for free speech and a renowned national leader,” said Richard Corcoran, the school’s president, in a statement.

“We are happy to welcome him here at New College, where we place a high value on personal freedom and individual autonomy, as Dr Atlas does.”

In their alternative commencement ceremony, scheduled for Thursday, the students invited Maya Wiley, an attorney and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as the keynote speaker. The event will be followed by a private gathering on 19 May at an undisclosed location, reported the Sarasota Herald-Tribune .

“We’re now guaranteed a graduation surrounded by the New College community members that truly want to celebrate who we are, rather than those attempting to change our culture,” Madison Markham, a graduating senior and one of the students planning the event, was quoted as saying by Politico.

According to the outlet, while the students opposed the changes brought by Mr DeSantis, they were unable to have a significant impact on them.

The moves by the board included the removal of school’s president Patricia Okker, and replacing her with Mr Corcoran, a former Republican House Speaker, who earns $699,000 annually, more than double his predecessor, as per the Sarasota Herald-Tribune .

At least five faculty members have been denied tenure, prompting one of the trustees to quit the board and resign as a professor from the university, reported Politico.

“The new administration that has spent the past four months attacking our students and community cannot, in good faith, celebrate our graduating students and their accomplishments,” said the GoFundMe page.

“Commencement is supposed to be a celebration of graduating students and the people who have shaped this school to be what it is. And we’re proud of who we are! So, we’re taking the celebration plans into our own hands,” it said.

“We want this event to be a fulfilling and memorable experience for graduating students that keeps the focus on STUDENTS, rather than an administration desperately trying to maintain normality and instill conformity.”

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