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In protest of George Will's commencement speech, graduates hold smaller survivor's commencement

December 13, 2014

While thousands of graduates crossed the stage at the Breslin Center on Saturday, five did so at an alternative graduation in protest of controversy surrounding commencement speaker George Will.

The graduation was held in the kiva of Erickson Hall, with MSU professor and Director of the Research Consortium on Gender-based Violence Chris Sullivan serving as the master of ceremonies.

“This week I have personally never felt so embarrassed by my university, and this week I have never felt so proud of my university, and I feel very proud today,” Sullivan said to the crowd during her opening address, referring to the school’s decision to keep Will as a speaker amid controversy, and the response it generated.

The graduation was held in between the morning’s 10 a.m. ceremony and the afternoon’s, which began at 2 p.m., and featured a recognition and a brief personal address from each of the five graduates.

Human biology graduate Haley Bissonnette said she felt much happier attending the small ceremony than to see George Will address grads at the Breslin Center.

“It’s a good testament to the fact that people aren’t going to stand for feeling uncomfortable or feeling degraded in any way and that we’re going to take the chance to step up and take action,” said Bissonnette, who added that the alternative graduation was the only ceremony she would attend on Saturday.

The hour-long event also featured about 30 MSU faculty, each of whom lined up to shake the hands of graduates.

“Everything about today was about them,” said MSU professor and Associate Director of Research Consortium on Gender-based Violence Ruben Parra-Cardona. “Even if we had just one person who said they wanted to be here, then all this was worth it. It was beautiful to have the students up there and give them the honor and recognition.”

Though it might have lacked the fanfare of a typical graduation, Bissonnette said she would remember the small event “even more” than had she gone to the traditional ceremony.

"I was talking to some of the other graduates and we were saying that never would we have imagined going to a school with 40,000 students and graduating with five,” Bissonnette said. “So it was actually really incredible and I have to say it’ll always be in my memory.”

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