The Chiang Mai University (CMU) Student Union announced on Tuesday (11 January) that its representatives will not receive members of the royal family at the university’s graduation ceremonies during the current committee’s term in order to uphold equality.
The announcement was made via the CMU Student Union Policy Team’s Facebook page on Tuesday (11 January), a few days ahead of the graduation ceremony for the classes of 2019 and 2020, which will be held this Friday (14 January) presided over by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
The Student Union said that it will not send representatives to receive Princess Sirindhorn as she arrives for the ceremony, and that it will not receive any member of the royal family at any graduation ceremony which takes place during the current committee’s term, as receiving members of the royal family would show support for “feudalism” and because they see the reception ceremony as a form of oppression and inequality. It also calls on other faculty unions to boycott the reception ceremony.
The union said that such reception ceremonies often require students and university staff to join to show their respect, both voluntarily or by coercion using conditions many may find difficult to refuse. It therefore sees the ceremony as oppressive, outdated, and a way of normalizing inequality. Boycotting the ceremony would therefore be a way of upholding equality and human rights.
Thai graduation ceremonies are often long, complicated, and strictly regulated as they are presided over by a member of the royal family. Student representatives at many universities are required to wait to receive the member of the royal family arriving to preside over the ceremony. Universities also impose strict dress codes on graduates, specifying even hair colour and nail polish colour, while many transgender students face obstacles in getting permission from university administrations to dress according to their gender identity. Attending the ceremony also costs graduates and their families a large sum of money, including the cost of the graduation gown, hiring a photographer, and travel costs for those who live in distant provinces.
Following the start of the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy protests, graduation ceremonies have become a platform for young people to express their discontent at the status quo. Many graduates see boycotting the ceremonies as an act of civil disobedience, while activists arereported to have staged small activities at their universities’ graduation events.
During a protest on 8 August 2020, Chulalongkorn University graduate Aomtip “Alice” Kerdplanant launched a campaign calling for new graduates to boycott the graduation ceremony and to have their diplomas presented by those who have been involved in their education. She saw the action as a way of showing support for the pro-democracy movement’s demands, especially the call for monarchy reform, and to send a message directly to the royal family.
During Thammasat University’s graduation ceremony for the class of 2018, held on 30 – 31 October 2020, a group of student activists organized a campaign calling for graduates to not attend the ceremony. They gave out roses to graduates presenting their tuition fee receipts, distributed stickers and mock diplomas designed by the artists’ network Free Art, and set up cardboard cutouts of pro-democracy academics such as Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul and historical Thammasat luminaries like Puey Ungphakorn and Pridi Banomyong posing as if they were giving out diplomas for people to take pictures with. A representative of the group described the event as an act of civil disobedience and a way of demanding monarchy reform.
Khon Kaen University students and graduates hung up a "Free our friends" banner during the university’s graduation ceremony. A graduate also burned a graduation gown as an act of protest.
On 13 December 2021, a group of student activists from Khon Kaen University hung banners saying “Repeal Section 112” and “Free our friends” during the university’s graduation ceremony to demand the release of detained activists. They also gave speeches criticizing the university and its Faculty of Law for not taking action when its students were detained on political charges.
Student activist Sarayut Narkmanee gave a speech saying that for the 2021 ceremony, which was presided over by Princess Sirindhorn, the university designated a wider than usual area as royal space, which pushed people off campus. He also said that students don’t graduate because they are handed a degree, that graduation should be for the people, and a graduation gown is created by the authorities and so is not necessary. He then burned a graduation gown in an act of protest.