Graduation is commonly thought of as only the act of receiving a degree or diploma. But within the African American experience, this phenomenon represents more than the conferring of a diploma or degree, it has represented a rite of passage, the promise of expanded opportunities and a spirit of transcendence over notions of racial and cultural inferiority.
Contemporary celebrations in the form of Black Graduations have, in many cases, expanded to include the acknowledgement of academic achievement, overcoming obstacles, seeing out a dream deferred, and on. Black Graduation represents an acknowledgement of our belief in the power to overcome that dates back to the achievements of enslaved and free blacks in the nineteenth century.
The mission of the LACCD Black Graduation Celebration is to commemorate the unique historical journey and educational milestones of graduating students through a complementary cultural ceremony that expresses African and African-American rituals, traditions, and rites of passage activities, such as African drumming processional, prayers and blessings, kente cloth stole drapings, singing of the Negro National Anthem—activities which are all symbolic of the spirit and traditions of a rich African heritage that reaches back to before slavery. The Celebration is also an acknowledgement of the village, reminding students of the Yoruba proverb, that “if we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.” It is a way to pay homage to the elders and ancestors who paid the price and paved the way to make this day possible.
Studies have revealed that the level of student involvement and connections to an institution’s academic and social systems can make a positive impact on students’ motivation, self-efficacy, persistence, retention, and success. And for many students, especially for first generation black college graduates, this ceremony will be the culminating experience that completes their academic and/or personal journey and will help them to remember and hold close the goals and pledges they took in the beginning of their tenure, and motivate them toward future academic and/or personal aspirations.
For the non-traditional student, this ceremony highlights the “in spite of” achievements—the personal resilience and accomplishments of those who have overcome obstacles such as early childhood trauma, teenage pregnancy, poverty, abuse, mental health issues, addiction, violence, gang involvement, illiteracy, and other educational, family, personal, and socioeconomic issues of the “so-called” at-risk student.
Given the achievement gap and low retention rates of African-American students, this ceremony serves as an opportunity to inspire others to come to college and/or stay in college. When black graduates stand all together, they look less like minorities and more like majorities, and subsequently create a picture of hope, achievement, and accomplishment. We want pre-college students to see graduates who look like them and tell themselves, “I can be one of those graduates too.’’
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Black Graduation Celebration a graduation?
- The Black Graduation Celebration is an additional ceremony that commemorates students’ college graduation and certificate and/or degree achievement.
How is the Black Graduation Celebration different from the official college graduation?
- The Black Graduation Celebration is a cultural ceremony where graduates are presented with symbolic Kente stoles, guests are invited to wear traditional African cultural clothing, etc.
Why a separate ceremony?
- This is not a separate ceremony; it is a complementary, or additional, celebration that reinforces the bonds of scholarship and extends the sense of community that was created from the time the students first arrived on campus. The celebration recognizes the accomplishments of graduates while helping them remember their elders and ancestors, many of whom came to the U.S. on slave ships.
Why is a Black Graduation Celebration so Important?
- Studies have revealed that the level of student involvement and connections to an institution’s academic and social systems can play a critical role in student’s motivation, self-efficacy, persistence, retention, and success. This ceremony, for many students, will be the culminating experience that closes the loop to their initiation to the college and which also serves as motivation toward future academic and/or personal aspirations.
- According a review of the social and economic status of African-Americas in California, blacks fare significantly worse than whites and Asians on indicators related to economics, housing, health, education, criminal justice, and civic engagement. So an African-American college student who graduates, not only advances to the next phase of their studies and/or profession, but has beat the odds.