About 3,000 students and 6,000 spectators filed on to RIMAC Field for the event, which featured keynote speaker former Vice President Al Gore.

A year marked by protests tied to the war in Gaza ended on a softer note Saturday at the University of California San Diego where the giddy joy of receiving a degree triumphed all else.

Comparatively few of the roughly 3,000 students who filed on to RIMAC Field for the first major night commencement in school history wore or showed political messages.

The ceremony also dominated the attention of roughly 6,000 spectators who turned out amid heightened security linked to the recent protests at the university, as well as the appearance of former Vice President Al Gore, the keynote speaker.

The initial speaker Saturday was Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, whose decision on May 6 to have police dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment near Geisel Library has led to weeks of pointed tension.

Police arrested 66 people during the dismantling and during the sometimes violent protests that followed.

The school’s faculty are currently debating whether to officially praise Khosla or issue a statement of censure. The decision could be announced as soon as late Tuesday.

Graduates leave holding the Palestinian flag during UCSD’s commencement ceremony at RIMAC Field on Saturday.

In his speech, Khosla made reference to various difficult issues, such as those that were posed by COVID-19 and the on-going impact of climate change. He did not talk about the Israel-Hamas war and the protests that have unfolded on his own campus. Khosla was briefly interrupted by protesters who yelled “Free Palestine, free Palestine.” It was unclear whether the chants came from students or attendees.

Khosla seemed distracted by the shouting and soon moved on, introducing Gore.

The former Vice President focused largely on climate change, pausing several times to praise past and current UCSD faculty who have made major contributions to the field, including the late Roger Revelle, who helped identify some of the impact of greenhouse gases.

The speech drew comparatively little response from the audience.

Some students expressed mixed sentiments on Saturday.

“I feel a sense of completion and pride in my accomplishments,” said Bretton Simpson, a physics major from Murrieta. “I know where I’m headed.

“But I’m also whole-heartedly committed to promoting human rights here in the United States and across the world, and the right of peaceful students to demonstrate for the rights of the Palestinians.

“I think the campus administration made the wrong decision in arresting peaceful demonstrators (on May 6). Some of the students were beaten by police officers with batons. I think it was wrong.”

Other students were more focused on the simple joy of receiving a degree.

“I’m just ecstatic,” said Jack Rodriguez of Laguna Niguel, who majored in cognitive science. “Nothing matches getting your first degree. I plan to go on and get a Master’s and a PhD. “

A similar sentiment was expressed by Sanjit Joseph of Cupertino, who majored in engineering. Basking in the late afternoon sunshine, she said, “I’m a little nervous. So many of my friends are moving away. It was a privilege to get to know so many of them.”

Cindy Xu, a chemical engineering major from San Diego, smiled, took things in a for second, then said, “I feel so happy because my family is here and I graduated from a famous school.”

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