For Us, by Us: The Significance of Black Graduation

For Us, by Us: The Significance of Black Graduation

Commencement season is here and within the Black community, a sacred rite of passage ensues known as Black graduation — a ceremony offered by many universities to celebrate and honor the achievements and experiences of Black graduates attending predominantly white institutions. This culminating moment symbolizes the triumph of our educational journey, bringing our families, ancestors, and village of supporters with us to celebrate earning that college degree, a feat not afforded to the many that came before us due to segregation, racism, and injustice.

Black Graduation is especially important to so many of us because we get to celebrate on our terms.

Black Graduation is especially important to so many of us because we get to celebrate on our terms. From the singing of the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to the dancing to the impromptu step show on stage from the Black fraternities and sororities to the treasured remarks from the few Black professors and administrators who encouraged us along the way, it’s a celebration of Black excellence. And by gathering our families and friends across disciplines, it also feels like a family reunion.

At Black graduation, one cannot help but get emotional witnessing the sea of graduates donning their cap, gown, and stoles made of Kente cloth in the colors of red, black, and green. The Kente cloth is a nod to the motherland of Africa, representing our collective solidarity as a culture and a people. Although our language and home country were stripped from us, the wearing of the Kente cloth is a reminder of our interconnectedness, echoing the African proverb, “It takes a village.”

At Black graduation, we are uplifted and are reminded that our success is not ours alone but on the shoulders of so many that came before us. The blood and strength of our ancestors runs through our veins, along with the recognition of the many sacrifices made from our parents and extended family members who helped us get to this point. We did not get here alone, and Black graduation gives us the opportunity to thank our village of supporters.

Black graduations have been a staple at many universities across the country including Columbia, UCLA, UC Berkeley, USC, Stanford, and Harvard, which had their first ceremony in 2017. With a call for racial justice, more schools have now recognized the importance of not only offering Black graduation, but also supporting the event, where in previous years this had not been a university practice. As Black graduations become more commonplace at colleges and universities, many outside of the Black community still struggle to understand why Black graduation is so significant to us as Black people, and why we come together to celebrate our achievements, despite the obstacles and institutional barriers placed before us.

We take part in the ceremony knowing that it connects our community. We take pride in our accomplishments, while also celebrating the strength, beauty, and resilience of Blackness and Black joy. Our collectively journey represents so much, and Black graduation is another reminder of who we are and the light we shine. So, regardless of if the degree is a Bachelor’s, JD, M.Ed., MD, or Ph.D., we are taking that victory lap across the stage, basking in our Black joy and representing one small part of liberation and freedom that is not dependent on the approval of those in the majority at our PWI (predominantly white institutions).
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As the end of the procession nears, you can usually hear shouts of “Mama, I made it,” and indeed, we have made it! It’s an extraordinary moment of pride, knowing how far we’ve come and how far there is still to go on the path to Black liberation.

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