Denied a Second Chance at a Normal Senior Year

Divya Jakatdar imagined that she would spend her senior year of high school celebrating college acceptances with her friends, attending prom and walking across the stage at graduation to the cheers of her family members.

Instead, her senior spring arrived at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic. She said goodbye to high school classmates over Zoom; her graduation was a drive-through.

Ms. Jakatdar, 21, thought her senior year at the University of Southern California might be a kind of do-over. But it has erupted into unrest in recent weeks after the school initially canceled commencement speeches by its valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, the director Jon M. Chu and the tennis star Billie Jean King, citing safety concerns related to the Israel-Hamas war, and then went a step further on Thursday, canceling the university’s “main stage” commencement ceremony entirely.

“It’s a very big hit to morale for the exact class that felt like they lost their high school graduation,” Ms. Jakatdar, the student body president of U.S.C., said a few minutes after getting news that the commencement was off. “We’ve missed out on enough.”

But as was the case during Covid, Ms. Jakatdar does not feel quite right about moping: “It seems sort of ridiculous for us to complain about graduation when people’s lives are on the line.”

It is a story that is playing out across the country. Millions of high schoolers had their senior years upended by Covid in 2020, being left to celebrate their momentous occasion in isolation. Four years later, many of those same students have had the traditions of their senior years foiled once again, this time in response to the Israel-Hamas war, and the attempts by universities to shut down or contain widespread protests.

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