BU’s Commencement Speaker Gets Booed Amidst Writers Strike

Gia Shin, Co-Editor-in-Chief

On a day of celebration and cheers, Boston University’s Commencement ceremony was met with boos and jeers as Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav took the stage to deliver the commencement speech on May 21, 2023.

BU officially announced that Zaslav would be speaking at its 150th commencement for the graduating class of 2023. He graduated from the BU School of Law in 1985 and was to receive an honorary degree. Many students, however, felt this decision was insensitive amidst the Hollywood writers’ strike that is currently ongoing. In early May, approximately 11,500 members of WGA initiated a strike to demand higher compensation, fairer deals, and protection from the abuse of AI technology. After negotiations for a new contract fell through, writers have refused to work. This strike marks the first Hollywood writers’ strike in 15 years.

 In an email sent to the Daily Free Press, BU’s student newspaper, Brown explained why BU decided not to rescind Zaslav’s invitation despite looming protests. “We fully respect the right of the [Writers Guild of America] to seek the best possible compensation through the collective bargaining process, but it is not in keeping with our policy for free and open speech to disinvite a speaker to indicate support to a party in a labor dispute,” he wrote. Many students were enraged that the president’s statement insinuated that disinviting Zaslav wasn’t even in question. According to BU Today, Seth Helman, a graduate of the School of Communications, said, “[The University ignored] the opinions and thoughts of the students, which is what’s most important about a university.”

Before the ceremony started, roughly 350 picketers gathered along Commonwealth Avenue, including members of the WGA and other unions. Additional demonstrations included a plane flying over the stadium carrying a banner reading “David Zaslav—Pay Your Writers” before Zaslav took the stage.

During the speech, Zaslav did not address the pressing issue and instead encouraged students to pursue their passions. He spoke about how he had to create his own opportunities in New York after graduating from BU. According to The Verge, which is unionized with the WGA, reporter Charles Moore writes, “He attempted to use his time to relate to the class of 2023 by recounting how, after landing a job at a ‘big, prestigious firm’ where he was ‘making good money,’ he found the work of writing prospectuses not just difficult but so deeply unfulfilling that he had to find a way out.” In response, students clad in their red gowns turned their backs on him. “‘We don’t want you here,’ ‘Pay your writers’ and ‘Shut up, Zaslav’ could be heard emanating from the crowd,” wrote Abbey White from The Hollywood Reporter.

Several politicians expressed their support for the protestors. According to NBC News, BU alum Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez Senator retweeted a video of students during the ceremony chanting, “Pay your writers!” Bernie Sanders also tweeted: “If Warner Bros Discovery can afford to pay its CEO David Zaslav $286 million in compensation over the past 2 years, it can afford to pay its writers much better wages and benefits. Mr. Zaslav: Listen to the Boston University students and the Writers Guild. Pay your writers.”