Newsletter and Subscription Sign Up

Protests of President Punctuate Graduation for Dartmouth’s Class of ’24

Published Tuesday Jun 11, 2024

Author Christina Dolan, Valley News

Abigail Bordelon holds up a red-gloved hand after opting not to shake hands with Dartmouth President Sian Leah Beilock while walking across the stage during the Dartmouth College commencement ceremony on the green in Hanover on June 9, 2024. Several students, many wearing keffiyehs or other pro-Palestinian adornments, declined to shake hands with Beilock. (Valley News - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news photographs — Alex Driehaus

HANOVER — The Dartmouth Green was the scene of celebration and defiance Sunday morning as the college awarded degrees to more than 2,000 graduates during a commencement ceremony held under rainy skies.

Swiss tennis great Roger Federer, the commencement speaker, drew applause and laughter throughout his 25-minute address. He noted it was only the second time in his life that he’s set foot on a college campus — he left school at age 16 to focus on tennis — and that receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Dartmouth was his “most unexpected victory.”

As degree recipients were called individually to the stage, some of the roughly 1,150 undergraduates whose names were called declined to shake hands with first-year President Sian Leah Beilock.

While walking across the stage, some graduates unfurled Palestinian flags and a few wore handcuffs. The latter was a reference to the 91 people, including 67 students, who were arrested for criminal trespass this academic year, after the Beilock administration called in police to break up peaceful pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

Throughout the three-hour ceremony, about two dozen graduate students who have been on strike since May 1 in a contract dispute with the college, and pro-Palestinian activists marched and chanted slogans on the public sidewalk encircling the Green.

Beilock’s address, which came near the end of the ceremony, was met with a walkout by about 60 freshly-minted graduates. They chanted “Divest, don’t arrest,” a common refrain heard in Dartmouth campus demonstrations in recent months. One of the protesters’ demands has been that Dartmouth divest its $8 billion endowment from companies and funds supplying armaments to Israel during its war in Gaza.

Beilock began her address by reminding the audience that the “world contains multitudes,” and that irrefutable answers are not always easy to come by.

“Remember the humanity of your colleagues, friends, and neighbors, and understand their points of view, even when they are in sharp opposition to your own,” she said.

As the morning progressed and a chilly drizzle stubbornly fell, the Green became a sea of umbrellas. The audience saw Dartmouth confer more than 2,000 graduate and undergraduate degrees. This year’s recipients hail from 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and 42 countries, according to a college spokeswoman.

But Federer, much like during his 24-year pro tennis career, took center court.

Delighted to discover the Dartmouth tradition of “beer pong” during his few days in Hanover, Federer suggested to loud applause that after competing with some students, “I’m thinking about turning pro.”

One of the most successful men’s tennis players in the history of the sport, Federer, 42, won 20 Grand Slam titles before he retired in 2022.

Having “graduated” from a career in professional tennis, he sympathized with the graduates about being bombarded with “what now” questions and assured them that “it’s OK not to know.”

Federer also is a prolific philanthropist. In 2003, he founded the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports early childhood education in six countries in southern Africa and in Switzerland.

Federer’s visit to Hanover seems to have been put in motion by his agent and business partner, Tony Godsick, a 1993 Dartmouth graduate. Godsick’s daughter, Isabella, was among Sunday’s graduates, which Federer mentioned in his address.

Federer’s message to the Class of ’24 was to work hard and do not be fooled by what he called “the illusion of effortlessness.”

Federer, always a bit annoyed by his own reputation as a tennis player with “effortless talent,” spoke about the intense and sustained hard work that went in to his appearance of nonchalance on the court.

Pointing out that even in his immensely successful tennis career, he won only 54% of the points he played, Federer urged the graduates to keep in mind that perfection is an illusion. Dartmouth graduates, should strive to be “deep and wide.” meaning that they excel in their areas expertise, but also cultivate time for family and friends, travel and opportunities for growth, he said.

To illustrate the point about the well-roundedness, Federer paraphrased late Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens, 66, who died in September following a bicycle accident in March in Florida. Federer reminded the audience what Teevens was known to tell parents of potential Dartmouth football recruits: “Your son will be a great player when it’s football time, a great student when it’s academic time, and a great person all the time.”

Federer concluded his address by asking Beilock for a tennis racket. He then proceeded to give a brief tennis lesson on how to properly hold the racket and the importance of footwork and follow-through. “This is not a metaphor, it’s just good technique,” Federer said with a smile.

Class valedictorian Brian Zheng, whose younger brother is a member of the Dartmouth Class of 2026, recalled that he and his classmates began their Dartmouth journeys during the COVID-19 pandemic, which “affected our class deeply.”

Zheng, a government major, spoke of the shared sense of grief and loss, of the social bonds and traditions that are normally part of the freshman experience and of the five members of the Class of ‘24 who did not live to see their graduation days. Those challenges imbued this graduating class with a sense of solidarity and exceptionalism. His classmates, he said, will change the world.

“It has been an unforgettable experience,” Zheng said.

Some graduates haven’t forgotten how Beilock and her administration responded when Dartmouth students joined the national wave of pro-Palestinian campus demonstrations.

Calvin George was among the graduate who didn’t shake hands with Beilock. “There are just so many people that are upset with her right now” that it was a spontaneous decision of each individual student rather than a planned protest, he said.

George, like some of his classmates, wore a Palestinian flag-themed stole over his graduation gown. “It feels very disingenuous to have commencement as usual” while the war in Gaza continues, said George, a leader in the New Deal Coalition, a campus activist group that helped organize the May 1 demonstration.

The pro-Palestinian walkout joined forces with the picketing graduate students, and after the conclusion of the commencement ceremony a group of about 25 people continued to chant and wave picket signs as they circled the Green.

Dartmouth issued a statement following the ceremony saying: “As always, Dartmouth respects and supports the free expression of diverse viewpoints.”

Christina Dolan can be reached at or 603-727-3208.

Graduates from the Upper Valley

Andrew Wang Chen, Hanover; Tobias Morgan Choyt, Hanover; Juliette Talbot Courtine, New London; Jiayu Judy Guo, Hanover; Isabella Zoe Hamlen, Hanover; Alexander Stephen Kish Jr., Hanover; Andrew Quante Kotz, Lyme; Rachel Celia Matthew, Etna; Nathan James Savo, Claremont; William Tarnowski, Hanover; and Stephen Wang, Hanover.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit 

All Stories