Universities host cultural graduation ceremonies for blacks, Latinos, gays, veterans and others

Cal State San Bernardino held its Latino Graduate Recognition Ceremony on June 10 in the Coussoulis Arena. The celebration featured live music, dancers and each graduate received a complimentary cultural sash.
Cal State San Bernardino held its Latino Graduate Recognition Ceremony on June 10 in the Coussoulis Arena. The celebration featured live music, dancers and each graduate received a complimentary cultural sash. PHOTO BY SARAH ALVARADO
Cal State San Bernardino held its Latino Graduate Recognition Ceremony on June 10 in the Coussoulis Arena. The celebration featured live music, dancers and each graduate received a complimentary cultural sash.
Cal State San Bernardino held its Latino Graduate Recognition Ceremony on June 10 in the Coussoulis Arena. The celebration featured live music, dancers and each graduate received a complimentary cultural sash. PHOTO BY SARAH ALVARADO

SAN BERNARDINO >> Cal State San Bernardino will graduate an expected 2,907 students on Saturday. It won’t be the first time this month for many of them.

On Saturday, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences will award degrees to an expected 1,039 graduates; the College of Art and Letters and the College of Education will award an expected 475 and 115 degrees in a joint ceremony; the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration will award an expected 661 degrees; and the College of Natural Sciences will award an expected 617 degrees in their commencement ceremony.

But earlier this month, Cal State San Bernardino held six special ceremonies for 2017 graduates, including an African-American Graduation Recognition ceremony, a special ceremony for students with disabilities, a Dreamers Graduation Ceremony for undocumented students, a LatinoGrad Recognition Ceremony, a Lavender graduation ceremony for LGBTQA students and a Veterans Graduation Ceremony.

Universities across the country are increasingly holding graduation ceremonies for different ethnicities and other specific groups, more intimate versions than the campuswide pomp and circumstance. Last month, Harvard University received national media attention when it held its first commencement for black graduates. But such ethnic ceremonies are old hat in Southern California, where universities have been hosting so-called cultural graduations for years, some for decades.

“Commencement is so big that the accomplishments of some of the students are not recognized, but when you break it down by community, you can recognize their accomplishments,” said Romaine Arterberry, of UC Riverside’s Women’s Resource Center.

The university held its 45th annual “Raza Grad” on June 10 for Latino students, followed by a Black Graduation Ceremony and a Family Graduation Celebration for graduates who are already parents on June 11. The university holds most of its commencement ceremonies this weekend.

Cal State Long Beach’s 28th annual Chicano/Latino graduation was so large it was split into two sessions, with live music, Aztlán dancers, and flags from throughout Latin America.

“I get the question a lot: Why separate them?” said Pamela Kreiser, a CSULB professor attending the Latino event, a day after going to the university’s Pan-African Graduation. “It’s not to separate them. These are celebrations in addition to regular commencement.”

Sylvia Mendez, daughter of Mexican immigrants whose landmark court case, Mendez v. Westminster, led to desegregation in schools in Orange County and California before the rest of the nation followed years later with Brown v. Board of Education, was the keynote speaker at both CSULB’s and CSUSB’s Latino graduation ceremonies.

Advertisement

“What makes this country the greatest in the world is the knowledge that we are all created equal, and we are allowed to keep our culture, our customs, even our own graduations — how great is that?” Mendez said to cheers in Long Beach.

Long Beach also held a much lower-key celebration for about 15 Cambodian graduates. The fare included traditional dishes following speeches and congratulatory certificates.

Professor Armando Vazquez-Ramos, the coordinator of the Long Beach Ethnic Students Program, says the ethnic graduations recognize not only the graduates “but those who got them there. … It’s more of a celebration for the whole family.”

Some students pass on participating in the specialized graduations.

Senior Ariana Martinez, 23, was busy studying for finals while some of her friends were at the “Raza Graduation” at Cal Poly Pomona.

Had she been free, she might have gone.

“I feel it is still necessary because it makes us feel empowered,” said Martinez, who hails from Anaheim and whose brother Alejandro graduated from Cal State Long Beach and attended his Latino ceremony.

“At the same time, we’re separating each other during graduations,” she said. “We’re supposed to be united, but these graduations actually separate us. I see both points of view. But as long as I can attend the main graduation, I’ll be happy.”

Back at Cal State Long Beach, Partida said each graduation ceremony would be meaningful.

“We live in a society where everyone wants to make people stay in one box,” said the newly minted grad with a degree in human development. “Having more than one identity is not a bad thing.”

Cal State San Bernardino’s five colleges hold their commencement ceremonies on Saturday at Citizens Business Bank Arena, 4000 E. Ontario Center Pkwy., in Ontario. Parking at Citizens Business Bank Arena will be $5 in lots A, B, C and D.

The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences graduation ceremony will be held at 8 a.m. The College of Arts and Letters and the College of Education will hold their joint commencement at noon. The Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration will hold its commencement ceremony at 4 p.m. Finally, the College of Natural Sciences will hold its commencement ceremony at 8 p.m.

For more information, visit the CSUSB Commencement website at commencement.CSUSB.edu or contact the Office of Special Events and Guest Services at 909-537-7360.

Click here to subscribe to Digital & Home Delivery - 50% off

About the Authors

Beau Yarbrough

Beau Yarbrough covers education and politics for The Sun and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Reach the author at byarbrough@scng.com or follow Beau on Twitter: @lby3.