Ethnic Graduation Ceremonies: Celebration or Separation?

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Black Graduation ceremony 2014. Photo taken by Adriana Vega of The Runner

Graduation is a time of celebration and accomplishment. With colleges filled with students from many backgrounds, ethnicities and races, it’s important to celebrate the accomplishments of minorities. Ethnic graduation commencements have been occurring for years across the country in several colleges and universities. The question is if it should be allowed to happen. Is it a sense of celebration or separation?

At California State University, Bakersfield, we have both Chicano Commencement and Black Graduation that honor the accomplishments of the Latino community as well as the black community on campus. Some may believe that the ceremonies separate and discriminate towards other races. I personally believe that we should be able to celebrate our accomplishments in our communities by having a commencement to recognize them.

Let’s focus on the black community for a minute. According to an article in The Journal of Blacks Higher Education, it is stated that the black graduation rates have been at about 42 percent but they have been going up in the past couple years. According to an Ed Trust report, black graduation rates have increases 4.4 percent in the past decade.

In a 2002 article Erik Lords from Michigan State University, wrote about criticism over the graduation ceremony for blacks.

“The response of critics is indicative of white privilege, because they don’t really understand why this is a significant accomplishment for black students,” Nikki O’Brian, Michigan State’s coordinator for African American Affairs, told Lords. “For white students to say we have the same struggle is misguided.”

Many students in the black community are first-generation college students. The phrase first-generation means they are the first in their families to attend a four-year college or university. Therefore, the students breaking these stereotypes should be able to be recognized for their accomplishments in their community. Some blacks come from the urban parts of cities and different financial situations than other students and should be awarded for their perseverance and determination to obtain their college degrees. These ceremonies aren’t official degree-conferring graduation ceremonies but a time to recognize the future graduates.

In a 2013 article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ann Schnoebelen elaborated on the subject of Latino graduation as well as ceremonies for other recognized minorities. Shirley Diaz, a graduate of the University of Nevada at Reno, participated in the Latino graduation at Reno’s Center for Student Cultural Diversity.

“Your family feels more connected to the event,” Diaz told Schnoebelen. “They actually feel like they can participate.”

The minority’s background, history, and past are recognized at these types of ceremonies. With friends, family, and supporters of the graduates at the commencements, it’s a more personal experience for all parties involved.

“I am going to participate in Chicano Commencement because I feel proud of my accomplishments. I love that there is a ceremony to recognize them within my culture,” says CSUB senior, Syleena Perez.

There are some that are opposed to having separate ceremonies for graduations. They may believe that everyone should be together because they don’t get to have their own separate graduation, which is completely understandable. If someone of any race, minority or group wants to have a ceremony to recognize their accomplishments of them and their community, then I fully believe that they should. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve done something great in your community. Therefore, I think Black and Latino commencements should continue at universities and colleges.

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