While the students at Harvard University prepare for graduation on May 25th, two days before, the black excellence of Harvard will be gearing up for a first-of-its-kind event at graduation: an all-Black commencement ceremony.
Black students will celebrate the obstacles they’ve overcome and the accomplishments they’ve made despite the racial issues they face at their Ivy League school. More than 170 students and 530 guests have confirmed their attendance.
Michael Huggins, president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, explained that the commencement ceremony is meant to highlight “Black excellence” and “Black brilliance,” not to segregate non-Black Harvard University graduates. “Too often at Harvard, there is not cross-discipline contact between Black students,” he said. “So it can feel like you are the only person of color. This is a chance to reaffirm for each other that we enter the work world with a network of supporters standing with us. We are all partners.” Organizing the graduation since July, Michael also pointed out the ceremony isn’t a form of “segregation,” rather “fellowship and building a community.”
The ceremony will highlight the achievements and perseverance as a black student in a college environment where minorities are underrepresented on campus. However, even though it’s a celebration for black students that does not mean other ethnic backgrounds are not invited or attending.
Student organizers raised more than $27,000 to plan Black Commencement 2017 followed by the reception. Student organizer Courtney Woods, a Graduate School of Education candidate, told the Boston Globe what the ceremony means to her. “I can only imagine how special I will feel when I walk across that stage and be able to honor my identity and my struggle at Harvard,” Woods said. “I know this is exactly what students like me need to be inspired as we leave this place as emerging global leaders.” Woods will be a speaker at the ceremony amongst other black alumni and administrators. Even though it’s a first for Harvard, the students hope that next year they can expand the event and include undergraduates.
In March 2016, Harvard agreed to retire its shield depicting the family crest of a slaveholder. A month later, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) joined university president Drew G. Faust to dedicate a plaque of remembrance to four slaves who worked on the campus in the 1700s.
Students are pressuring Harvard to reckon with its role in slavery and address current racial issues on campus. The Black commencement ceremony reassures how far we have come today. Congratulations class of 2017 you made a difference!
Written by: Ashley Nicole