For weeks, Asna Tabassum, the valedictorian at the University of Southern California, has been at the center of a maelstrom that upended the school’s longstanding commencement traditions and left campus leaders scrambling.

School administrators said last month that it would have been too dangerous to let her speak at a schoolwide ceremony after pro-Israel groups condemned the selection of Ms. Tabassum, a Muslim student who had sympathized with Palestinians on social media. She became the target of criticism and harassment.

But at her graduation ceremony on Friday morning, Ms. Tabassum received her degree to cheers and loud applause from students and parents.

In mere weeks, Ms. Tabassum has gone from a relatively obscure undergraduate at the U.S.C. Viterbi School of Engineering to a national symbol of free speech and a voice for the Palestinian cause. She still has critics — a conservative nonprofit paid for a moving billboard near campus this week that attacked her — but has also won over students and academics who felt that she had been unfairly treated by the university.

Since the school canceled Ms. Tabassum’s speech, there have been protests over the decision and against the war in Gaza. The first of the demonstrations resulted in a swift crackdown ordered by the school president, Carol Folt, and 93 arrests by the Los Angeles Police Department.

A subsequent protest was allowed to linger on campus for days, a sign that Dr. Folt and U.S.C. leaders had softened their approach. But that was also shut down early Sunday, this time without arrests.


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