New College of Florida students are holding an ‘alternative’ college start in protest of state school changes

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — Many of this year’s New College of Florida graduates attended their own graduation ceremony Thursday night to protest the state’s drastic changes to their school.

The two student organizers, who helped raise more than $130,000 for the graduation ceremony, said they were still unsure if they would be there for the official start on Friday.

“Tomorrow we will be recognized for our graduation,” said student organizer Madison Markham, “but today we will be celebrated for our achievements and for who we are.”

New College of Florida is a small liberal arts college with a graduating class of 119 students, but is in the national spotlight as state leadership takes a new direction.

“I think an event like this shows the state and New College that its students are willing to fight for what we believe in,” said student organizer KC Casey.

while dr Scott Atlas, a White House coronavirus adviser under former President Trump, will serve as the official opening speaker, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley addressed the graduates Thursday night at the Sarasota Arts Museum.

“We are very honored to have someone who we believe embodies what makes New College the New College, and who celebrates diversity and champions free speech and civil liberties,” said Markham.

Wiley commended the students for speaking out against the state’s sweeping changes to their college since Gov. Ron DeSantis installed a new conservative board of trustees that deposed the president and dissolved the diversity bureau.

“You don’t just stand for yourself, you stand for all of us,” Wiley said during her address.

That graduation ceremony comes the same week that the governor was on the New College campus and called DEI programs “discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination” as he signed into law three higher education bills.

“With our tax money,” said the governor, “we want to focus on the classic mission of a university. We don’t want to be sidetracked into these highly politicized niche issues.”

Casey, a near-lifelong Sarasota resident, plans to leave the state after graduation.

“But I really care about what’s happening here,” Casey said, “because I have a lot of friends. I have a lot of professors.”

News Channel 8 reached out to New College for comment on the alternative opening ceremony.

“The grand opening of New College of Florida will take place on Friday, May 19 at Bayfront — a tradition many students look forward to when they are accepted into New College,” the New College said in a statement. “It is our turn to present an exceptional speaker and we look forward to celebrating our graduates along with their families and friends at the commencement. From interviews with several students, it appears that the majority are planning to attend the graduation ceremony and are looking forward to it.”

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