UCSD Celebrates Largest Commencement as Dalai Lama Speaks Without Protests

June 19, 2017 Updated: June 19, 2017

The University of California at San Diego’s largest commencement ever went off without a hitch the weekend of June 17th, which was a pleasant surprise. Earlier grumblings on campus had promised that protests by Chinese students would greet the university’s honored guest, the 14th Dalai Lama.

The controversy over the Dalai Lama’s visit erupted when the university made the announcement in February. The Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) at UCSD announced opposition to the visit on its social media saying “our association has been forced to take tough and unyielding measures.”

The multi-day UCSD commencement events included a press conference and a public address on Friday, June 16; the all-campus commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 17; followed by individual college commencements on June 18. The Dalai Lama spoke on the first two days to a crowd of about 25,000 each day without major incidents. A video by the San Diego Union Tribune showed three Chinese students walked out on Saturday’s commencement.

UCSD's RIMAC field filled with about 25,000 people for the Dalai Lama's public address on June 16. (Sophia Fang/Epoch Times)
UCSD’s RIMAC field filled with about 25,000 people for the Dalai Lama’s public address on June 16. (Sophia Fang/Epoch Times)

The university set aside two free speech zones by the entrance to the RIMAC field. About half a dozen Tibetan monks from a different sect than that of Dalai Lama protested by displaying banners in one zone. On Saturday, around 15  Dalai Lama supporters showed up in the other free speech zone with banners, and Tibetan and American flags.

Among the 25,000 people, who attended the ceremonies on Friday and Saturday, were many Chinese students and their families. Some proud Chinese parents travelled to San Diego from mainland China to attend the event. 

The events were broadcast to the public on the UCSD website via live streaming video. Pradeep Khosla, Chancellor of UCSD since 2012, said he was pleased and felt the event was good for the students, the community and the university.

“In addition to the great education [our students receive] here at UCSD, the last words of wisdom from somebody with great stature sends them out on a very high note.” Khosla said, “Secondly, it is live streamed to millions of people around the world. This brings more visibility to the UC system, UC San Diego, San Diego, California. I think his presence sheds light on everything positive about San Diego.”

Around 6,000 graduates on RIMAC listening to Dalai Lama's commencement speech on Saturday, June 17. (Sophia Fang/Epoch Times)
Around 6,000 graduates on RIMAC listening to Dalai Lama’s commencement speech on Saturday, June 17. (Sophia Fang/Epoch Times)

According to the event organizer Mr. Steven Evans, this year’s all-campus commencement is the largest ever, featuring about 6,000 graduates. Tickets for both days of events were sold out over a month before the commencement weekend. Over 400 volunteers from the community helped to ensure the smooth operation of all the events.

Regarding the Chinese students’ objections in February, Mr. Khosla said he was completely open and willing to work on the differences. He said, “There are Chinese students who are very welcoming of his message. There are other students, who under either their own influence or some other influences, are acting like they are not welcoming. But I want to be compassionate and be sensitive to everybody’s concerns.”

As the Epoch Times previously reported, the Chinese Consulate was behind the initial Chinese student objections to UCSD’s decision to invite the Dalai Lama to speak at the commencement ceremony.

The CSSA at UCSD is one among the vast CSSA network, sponsored by the local Chinese Consulates. The connection to the Los Angeles Consulate is listed on the UCSD CSSA website, as reported by the Epoch Times.

The Chinese regime has a long history of infiltration into foreign countries utilizing the large number of overseas Chinese. By controlling what the overseas Chinese say about certain sensitive issues, such as Tibet, the regime attempts to extend its Party line to beyond China’s borders.

Khosla emphasized that the Dalai Lama brought the right message. “This message is a message of love, compassion, education, peace, environment, saving the earth, so I think this is the right message.” 

At a time when free speech has been challenged on campuses around the United States, the Chancellor said all should have the right to speak. “As a university, we stand by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, press, assemble, and petition to the government). The most uncomfortable thing would be we stop people from expressing themselves. Our students are free to invite many controversial speakers, and yes they do. We embrace them all.”