Columbia canceling its commencement reminds me of when I protested Apartheid at commencement

May 9, 2024 by Joshua
in Education, Freedom, Stories

I don’t have to tell you that front page headlines are reporting how students across the country are protesting. Universities are struggling with how to respond.

The university I got my (five) diplomas from, Columbia University, seems to be making some of the biggest headlines. A few days ago it decided to cancel its commencement.

I started college in 1988. Many students then opposed Apartheid. I boycotted businesses that did business with South Africa. Students protested to motivate universities to divest from companies that did business with South Africa.

I participated in some of those protests, among other things (including America fomenting wars in Central and South America). At a commencement, I believe my sophomore year, a few students and I attended and protested. We could access campus because we were students. We stood about where the camera was to take the picture above, though on the other side of campus. You can’t see it, but there’s a wall below where the camera is.

At a predetermined time, we unfurled a banner that read “CU Divest Now” and chanted those words. With tens of thousands of people in the audience, not many could hear us, but a few nearby could. Security guards didn’t take long to see us either and raced toward us. We chanted until they arrived. When they arrived, they were angry but peaceful. We didn’t oppose them. We rolled the banner back up and left. They didn’t charge us.

I can’t say the protest made a huge effect, though Mandela was released a year or two later, Apartheid legislation repealed a year after, and Mandela and de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize a couple years later. It wasn’t my first or biggest activist role, but I’m glad I did it. Not every act has to be the biggest. Some action is like playing scales and learning the ropes.

On a related note, you may like learning how I helped get bikes allowed on New York City subways.

Read my weekly newsletter

On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter