Face Off: Should uni students use graduation ceremonies as platforms for protests?

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

Joanne Ma |

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Graduating students at Lingnan University protesting against the disciplinary investigation into PolyU student leaders who stormed the management offices over control of the "democracy wall" on campus.

Joy Lee, 15, South Island School

While protesting isn’t the main point of a graduation ceremony, I would say it’s okay – as long as it is appropriate. There are many benefits to such action being taken by university students.

Most importantly, students should have a clear idea about their protest and respect the audience and the occasion. They should not use any kind of threats or violence during their speech. Those who do should be severely punished.

A good example of a meaningful protest is the #MeToo movement, which used this year’s Golden Globe awards to raise awareness about sexual assault and harassment of women in the workplace. Many of the Hollywood stars who attended the event wore black in support of the women who have spoken out about sexual harassment.

A protest at a graduation ceremony should send the right message to the public. It should not take anything way from the importance of the event which celebrates the achievements of university graduates. In fact, it shows that university students are not afraid to speak their minds and are aware of what’s happening around them. This can inspire fellow students to take action to make Hong Kong a better place and emphasise the value of higher education.

What’s more, a graduation ceremony is attended by hundreds of teachers, students, and their parents. It is a good platform to promote issues that have a big impact on the community.

In conclusion, I would say that students should think very carefully before using a graduation ceremony to launch a public protest. But, when carried out properly, such protests can be very effective.

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Snehaa Senthamilselvan Easwari, 18, Li Po Chun United World College

Simply put, no. This doesn’t mean that I believe that activism on university campuses should be banned but there are other platforms students can use to express their opinions. Although such protests may be deemed “peaceful”, they spoil a memorable occasion for the graduates. Graduation ceremonies are the fruits of the devotion and hard work of the students who are beginning a new chapter in their lives. Such events should be cherished rather than be “overpowered” by protests that have no connection at all to the ceremony.

What’s more, such behaviour can disrupt an event where people gather to honour high achievers. We need to appreciate the significance of a university graduation ceremony. Young people should consider the rights and wishes of their fellow students, parents and teachers who might prefer to treasure the occasion. To the graduates, it symbolises achievement and recognition. To families and friends, it is a moment of pride and joy.

Similar protests have happened across Hong Kong and they have been criticised. In 2013, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying was humiliated at the graduation ceremony of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

Graduation ceremonies have become so “political” these days that a prominent business figure even gave up the opportunity to receive an honorary degree to spare himself possible insults.

Protesters may think they have the right to make themselves seen and heard anytime, anywhere. They are wrong. Everything has a time and a place. A university graduation ceremony is the highlight of a student’s academic life and it is no place for protesters to voice their opinions either on stage or off.

They have no right to hijack the whole ceremony for their own political gains. A graduation ceremony is meant to be solemn and dignified. Let’s move our activism elsewhere.