A national civil rights figure will address students at New College's alternative commencement
The student-led event on Thursday is an additional graduation celebration for New College seniors.
New College of Florida students have selected a keynote speaker for their alternative graduation ceremony planned for Thursday evening.
Maya Wiley, president of the nonprofit Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, will travel to Sarasota to deliver an alternative commencement address.
Students organized the event, which is being held the day before the college's official graduation, so they could celebrate their achievements on their own terms.
"The students at the New College of Florida have achieved amazing academic success in the face of abhorrent challenges," Wiley said in a news release. "They endured COVID and the politicization of their education. They have advocated tirelessly for the freedom to learn free of politics, for the freedom to be who they are, and for the freedom to fight for a campus community that embraces all who work and learn in it. "
Wiley was also once an attorney with the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.
New College has been the focus of a state overhaul since January when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six new conservative members to the college’s board of trustees. That board quickly fired the school’s president and installed former state education commissioner Richard Corcoran as interim president.
In the span of just a few months, trustees also fired the school’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion and abolished the school’s small DEI office. They fired the school’s librarian and dean of academic engagement and denied tenure to five faculty members.
Students have been active in opposing the changes.
“Hosting an alternative commencement for the class of 2023 was an easy decision for graduating students to make, and the right one," said graduating senior Madison Markham, one of the event’s organizers. "We're now guaranteed a graduation surrounded by the New College community members that truly want to celebrate who we are, rather than those attempting to change our culture.”
A GoFundMe was created to help pay for the alternative commencement. By Tuesday afternoon, it had raised more than $100,000, far exceeding the goal.
Organizers say the additional money raised will support student activities next school year.
The private event will take place at an undisclosed location in downtown Sarasota.
The official New College graduation is Friday at the school's Sarasota campus.
The commencement speaker for that event is Dr. Scott Atlas, a former special coronavirus adviser appointed in 2020 by former President Donald Trump.
Atlas resigned just months later, following clashes with other public health leaders over his advocacy for herd immunity as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, New College interim president Corcoran said “Dr. Atlas' perspective and resume are impressive; he is a champion and fighter for free speech and a renowned national leader.”