New College students hold alternative graduation in protest of recent changes

Lisa Hyde at the alternative graduation. By: Josh Holton/WMNF (5/18/23)

The New College of Florida holds its official commencement tonight. Students upset with Governor DeSantis’ recent changes to leadership on campus, held an alternative graduation last night as a form of protest. They invited civil rights activist Maya Wiley to deliver the commencement address.

When asked what she would say to Governor Ron DeSantis, graduating senior Madison Markham said she would ask the governor to recognize human decency. Florida’s Governor began the week by signing a bill that limits Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion classes by barring state funding for courses or activities. That’s after DeSantis fired the New College president in February, replaced her with former Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and appointed a new majority of conservative members on the school’s Board of Trustees the same month. At tomorrow’s official ceremony, a former Trump advisor named Scott Atlas is scheduled to speak, and so Markham said current students wanted someone different to represent their graduating class.

“The kind of parallel of having somebody that, you know, arguably produced COVID misinformation during the height of the pandemic and us choosing to have someone that stands for the actual real values of the New College community. I think we’re so honored to have somebody that we think embodies what we think makes New College New College. And that’s celebration of diversity, you know advocating for free expression and civil rights.”

Wiley is the CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She noted that one New College of Florida alumnus renounced white supremacy after attending the college. Here’s an excerpt of her commencement address.

 “Derek Black was a white supremacist. His mother was literally the ex-wife of David Duke, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. He came here a racist and left here a human…and if that’s what the state fears , then we say you do not stand for the democracy that is the United States of America because we stand for a country that says we are equal. We stand for a country that says we are free. We stand for a country that says we are free to be who we are, to love who we choose to love, to worship the way we choose to worship, and to say the words of Adolph Hitler will not live here. Those words said if you capture the youth you control the future and we are here to say we celebrate you because we know you are the authors of a future that no Adolph Hitler wannabe can ever create for us.”

Wiley said that we live in a country that believes in democracy, but she noted there is also a rise in hate crimes against, Jewish, Black, and LGBTQ communities, which may be exacerbated by a new Florida law to ban diversity, equity, and inclusion in state-funded schools.

“And we know that the difference between being indoctrinated with hate and being filled with love for a community and the ability to be in community across difference is a good quality education. And these laws get in the way of the ability to create the beloved community, which is what Dr. Martin Luther King called for. And you can’t do that….Democracy dies with lies, but it lives in the light of education.”

Graduating history student Lisa Hyde says that hope lives on through alumni.

“There’s just not a lot you can do when you have trustees that refuse tenure to professors that are completely qualified or fire a librarian who has given 5 years to New College. That’s leaving a lot of people feeling dejected, but I think something like this and what they were saying about how now we’re graduated, and now alums, I think there is a lot of hope that there’s a sense of community there.”

Nicholas Floyd graduated with a degree in computer science and said that especially with the potential dangers of AI looming in the near future, now more than ever students need a well-rounded curriculum.

We’re in the period of history where either computers are going to be a real bad thing looking back, or a real good thing looking back.  We’re in the breaking point and we need more people who understand the effects of the things that they do; understand socially how it affects people, and understand generally how that radiates out. We don’t need savants anymore. We need fully educated people. Not only is that what’s under attack, they’re trying to reverse it. They’re trying to teach us the bad ways to apply our skills.”

More than 2,600 New College alumni and supporters donated for the alternative graduation. $70,000 is left over for a student activities fund to be controlled by students, which they can use as a firewall of influence against the college in an attempt to maintain the culture they have grown to love over the years. The official commencement ceremony is Friday night in Sarasota.


Graduation photos at the alternative graduation. By Josh Holton/WMNF (5/19/23)

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