After a pair of pro-Palestinian protests on the University of Utah campus earlier this week, one of which was broken up by police, the university is shifting its attention to its commencement and convocation ceremonies Thursday and Friday.

The university will step up security measures at commencement, said university spokeswoman Rebecca Walsh.

“In light of recent protests across the country and on our campus, and out of an abundance of caution, we will have extra police and security officers at the Jon M. Huntsman Center to respond to any disturbances inside the arena.

“We hear the protesters, and they have the right to express their viewpoints. They do not, however, have the right to disrupt this celebration of their peers’ years of hard work and academic achievements,” Walsh said.

She continued, “As a public institution, the University of Utah preserves and protects the right to free speech on our campus. But there are reasonable limits under the First Amendment for the times and places of these expressions. Our protesters are welcome to continue to express their opinions outside.”

Graduates and guests will undergo screening for weapons prior to entering graduation and commencement venues. Only weapons expressly permitted under state law will be allowed in the Jon M. Huntsman Center and Kingsbury Hall, the venue for several college convocations.

On Thursday, the university will celebrate the graduation of 8,652 graduates from every state and 64 countries who have earned 9,266 degrees.

“I ask our campus community to support our graduates by expressing views in a dignified, peaceful and legal manner. By doing so, we exercise our right of free expression, honor our graduates, and exemplify civil society,” said University of Utah President Taylor Randall in a statement following Monday’s protest and short-lived encampment.

Twenty people were arrested after they refused to comply with police orders to disperse after Monday night’s protest had been declared an unlawful assembly.

Police officers from the University of Utah Police Department, Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Utah Highway Patrol and Unified Police moved in to break up the crowd after several hours of negotiations between Academic Senate leaders, a few faculty members and student protesters failed to persuade the protesters to disperse.

They also did not heed a series of warnings by police that acknowledged the group’s constitutional right to free speech but explained their actions were in violation of state law and university policy, according to the university’s account of the events.

Sections of fence have been set up to help direct people into Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. In the aftermath of a pair of pro-Palestinian protests, University of Utah moves ahead to planned commencement exercises. Weapons detectors will be used at each venue and other restrictions similar to those for athletic events will be observed. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Other venue requirements

Guests may not bring bags into the venues except for diaper bags with a small child present or medical bags. Both are subject to search upon entry to each facility.

Several items are not permitted in the venues, including alcohol, umbrellas, drones, weapons, artificial noisemakers, backpacks, fireworks, outside drink and food, confetti, strollers, and balloons.

Walkers or wheelchairs not being used as seats are not permitted. In the Huntsman Center, they can be stored in the Ticket Office at Portal 23. There are designated ADA spaces in the arena for those who use wheelchairs.

There will be no charge for parking in campus lots during the university commencement and college convocation ceremonies. Due to limited parking, graduates and guests are encouraged to use TRAX and the university’s free campus shuttle service.

For those unable to attend in person, the University Commencement ceremony will be streamed in real-time online at utah.edu/live beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Visit the College Convocation webpage for streaming information about convocation ceremonies.

Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America, is the keynote commencement speaker. He is also one of the University of Utah’s Impact Scholars.

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Walsh said the state’s flagship institution is “excited to celebrate the hard work and dedication of one of the biggest graduating classes here at the University of Utah — the Class of 2024.

“They began their academic careers at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but have persevered and deserve to celebrate this moment. We’re especially mindful that many of this year’s graduates weren’t able to participate in high school graduation celebrations because of the pandemic.”

To mark the occasion, each member of the class will receive a pin recognizing their “resilience,” she said.

In addition to the University of Utah, two other major public universities in the state will be celebrating Thursday evening. Utah State University and Utah Valley University will also hold commencement ceremonies on their respective campuses.

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