Harvard marked its commencement Thursday morning amid protests around university’s connections to the ongoing war in Gaza.

Protestors bearing signs calling for a ceasefire gathered outside of Harvard Yard before exercises began.

A Palestinian student named Zaina, who is graduating from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wore a sash and carried a small Palestinian flag during the ceremonies.

“This is really to tell my people that we here remember them,” Zaina said. “It is just a drop in the sea to tell the world about what’s happening in Palestine, about the occupation there, about the genocide there.”

Thirteen undergraduate Harvard seniors were not allowed to graduate with their class after the school’s governing body upheld a punishment for their participation in a recent protest encampment.

Late last night, the Harvard Corporation rejected an effort by faculty to confer degrees today for the seniors being disciplined for the pro-Palestinian demonstration.

The Harvard Crimson reported that the Administrative Board informed the students three days ago that they were not in good standing. The corporation said it would have undermined the schools disciplinary process by reversing that decision. The corporation did say that the students can still appeal the move to withhold their degrees.

During the ceremony Thursday morning, student speaker Shruthi Kumar addressed that decision.

“As I stand before you today, I must take a moment to recognize my peers: the 13 undergraduates in the class of 2024 who will not graduate today,” Kumar said. “I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and the right to civil disobedience on campus.”

A crowd gathers in the Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church on May 23, 2024, for the "people's commencement."
Mark Herz GBH News

Some students chanted “let them walk” during degree conferral.

Hundreds of attendees walked out of the commencement event and marched to Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church, where they squeezed into every pew for what they called a “people’s commencement ceremony.”

The 13 students facing discipline each took to the microphone to speak for 13 students in Gaza killed by Israeli bombs and guns.

Willa, who did not want her last name cited for fear of safety, said concern for Palestinians overshadowed her suspension.

“They’ve been in my heart for seven months and many years,” she said. “There was no question about it for me.”

Asman, another student who only offered his first name, said facing discipline was a secondary consideration.

“It’s the price that I pay in order to rediscover my common humanity with the Palestinian people, and to be able to speak when they’re denied their voices in the midst of a genocide,” Asman said.

Asked by GBH News what happens next with graduation now over, a student spokesperson said, “watch and see.”