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Grads use commencements to protest debt

Traditionally, college graduation caps bear messages to Mom or shoutouts to professors and friends. But this year, some students are protesting their looming debt at commencement by using their hats to show the amount in loans they owe.

At the University of Colorado in Boulder on Friday, Laila Amerman, who attended the ceremony and helped organize the protest on campus, said about 25 students also sported inflatable ball and chains in addition to the decorated caps. The effort is in part to bring attention to rising student loan debt, which recently surpassed credit card and auto loan debt with some estimates putting the total at $1 trillion.

Organizers -- which include Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen -- say it's a way to silently protest the rising costs of education without interrupting the ceremony for others and their families.

The movement, dubbed Occupy Graduation, is shipping plastic ball and chains to at least six universities around the country including San Francisco State, Hunter College in New York City, George Washington University and the University of North Carolina. Of the 200 inflatable ball and chains that have been shipped so far, about 50 were sent to Colorado.

Cohen -- who has offered support to the Occupy movement -- said he was approached with the idea to offer inflatable ball and chains to college graduates about a month ago. It came from Adam Nelson, who works for a public relations firm that offered pro-bono public relations services in Occupy Wall Street's early days and who shared his own struggle with student loans.

Soon after, Cohen's assistant began looking on the Internet to order shipments of the ball and chain to send out to customers. When they didn't find enough of them to buy, Cohen's office began crafting their own.

The kits include black beach balls, inflatable chains and duct tape.

The effectiveness of the silent protest with regard to student loan debt has yet to be seen. Cohen believes "this message and this symbol is really gathering steam in terms of this issue."

Cohen, however, doesn't share the same personal struggle with paying back student debt.

"I dropped out of a few colleges," Cohen said.