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University of Chicago student allowed to graduate after protest

Tyler Kissinger (center) with his parents and two brothers. | Provided photo

Tyler Kissinger was feeling a little overwhelmed as he walked up to collect his degree Saturday at his University of Chicago graduation.

And it wasn’t just because he’s the first member of his family to graduate from college, and his parents and two brothers were there to see it.

Kissinger, 21, the university’s student body president the past two years, came close to not being there at all in the wake of a protest in May and school disciplinary proceedings that followed. He had found out only Friday that he would be allowed to graduate with his classmates the next day after being put on probation by the university for one day.

“Obviously, I was pretty nervous,” Kissinger said of waiting for the university’s decision. “There was definitely a bit of stress because nothing is ever certain.

“It was a huge relief,” he said. “It was a pretty emotional experience.”

He said he was interviewed by faculty about his actions at the May protest and admitted gaining access past security to the school’s administrative building by saying he was there as the student body president. Once inside, he let in other students for what was planned as a lengthy sit-in but turned out to be just an hour.

They wanted university administrators to agree not to invest in fossil fuels, to beef up its office for disabled students, to allow students great access to information about campus security and high-level decision-making and to raise pay for students working for the U. of C.

The last demand was personal for Kissinger, he said. His mother works in food service at Wake Forest University, and he’s been a “low-level” student worker on campus.

The students ended up quickly leaving after being told they were subject to arrest and disciplinary action.

Kissinger was the only student formally accused by the university. He said school officials told him he would be subject to disciplinary proceedings for being dishonest in gaining access to the building and creating an unsafe situation — and face possible punishment ranging from a warning to expulsion.

U. of C. spokesman Jeremy Manier said Saturday that school officials wouldn’t discuss Kissinger specifically, citing privacy concerns. But Manier said any student who faces a disciplinary hearing is notified of seven penalties that could result — including a warning, probation or expulsion.

Kissinger, who’s from North Carolina, said he plans to stay in Chicago and “probably stay around Hyde Park,” though he doesn’t have a job yet. He said he’s weighing several offers and plans to work in public policy, politics or public service.