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College drops national anthem from commencement ceremony

An elite college in Southern California did not play the national anthem during its commencement ceremony this year, breaking from an apparent tradition of playing the Star-Spangled Banner at the annual event.

Pomona College played an instrumental version of the song at its 2017 commencement ceremony, a YouTube video of the event shows. Both faculty and students stood for the anthem, some putting their hands over their hearts, others mouthing the words, still others standing with their hands at their sides. A round of applause came as the song concluded.

But this year, Pomona College did not play the song during the May 13 ceremony, a YouTube video of the event shows.

The omission was noticed by the student reporters of the Claremont Independent, a right-of-center publication, which broke the news of the development.

“The national anthem, a familiar sight at Pomona College’s commencements in years past, was conspicuously absent at its commencement ceremony on May 13. While Pomona College has played the national anthem at its commencement ceremonies up through last year, the college omitted the patriotic tune at this year’s graduation ceremony,” the Independent reported. “When asked to comment on the absence of the national anthem from commencement, Pomona College did not furnish a reply to the Independent despite repeated requests.”

In an interview Monday with The College Fix, Pomona College junior and co-editor-in-chief of the Independent, William Gu, said the publication’s student journalists and some parents noticed the absence of the national anthem. YouTube videos confirmed their suspicions, and the Independent tried to get campus officials to explain what happened, Gu said.

While administrators remained tight-lipped, Gu told The Fix one reason for the decision might have been because campus brass is “afraid that some students might protest the anthem, which would cause much more trouble than simply dropping it.”

Gu said he disagrees with the decision.

“I think private colleges should not be required to play the national anthem — three of the Claremont Colleges and Yale have not for years — but I think dropping it at a time when the country is so divided sends a wrong signal,” he said. “It is all right to be upset with certain aspects of this country, but dropping the anthem normalizes disrespect to this country which has given so many people so many opportunities.”

Pomona College is part of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five elite private universities east of Los Angeles. The others are Scripps, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer colleges.

Claremont McKenna, Scripps and Pitzer colleges did not play the national anthem, reports the Independent, which noted that is not unusual, as those colleges previously did not play it as part of their commencements.

“Harvey Mudd College was the only Claremont College to play the national anthem at its commencement. Other peer institutions, including the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard College — an institution with a similar proportion of international students — and Amherst College, played the national anthem at their commencements, while Williams College and Stanford University respectively played ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ and ‘America the Beautiful’ — both patriotic songs,” the Independent reported.

Not all students are upset the song was dropped.

“The Pomona student body (mostly) knows that American is not ‘the land of the free,’ as the star spangled banner suggests,” one student told the Independent.

MORE: Pomona College students say campus climate hinders free speech

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix. She previously worked as a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for a decade in Southern California, and prior to that held editorial positions at The Weekly Standard, Washington Times and FrontPageMagazine. She is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship recipient and has contributed to National Review.

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