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Harvard’s black students to get their own graduation ceremony

According to federal education data, in Harvard, black students are significantly outnumbered by their white peers. Source: Shutterstock

In a bid to acknowledge their community’s achievements, black students at the prestigious Harvard University will be holding their very own graduation ceremony on May 23, The Washington Post reports.

Organised by the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance (BGSA), the event will be held two days before Harvard’s traditional graduation ceremony. More than 700 students and guests, including the school’s deans and professors, are slated to attend the Black Commencement, which student organisers say is not to replace the school’s official event, but rather to add something that was missing.

“We really wanted an opportunity to give voice to the voiceless at Harvard,” said Harvard’s BGSA president Michael Huggins, who will be graduating with a master’s degree in public policy.

“So many students identify with the African diaspora, but don’t necessarily feel welcome as part of the larger community, and they don’t feel like their stories are being shared.”

To this end, the four student speakers featured will be discussing the obstacles they had to overcome to graduate. A stole made of traditional African kente cloth will also be given to each student to be worn on their cap and gown at the university’s graduation. The cloth represents the group’s shared heritage.

Huggins’ group follows the footsteps of their peers in other universities like Stanford University, University of Washington and Marshall University, who have held their own graduation ceremonies for students who are black or of other different ethnicities before.

And while this is not the first time Harvard has offered such graduation events, student organisers say this time, all students across the university are welcome to attend.

“This event is truly open for everyone.” – Huggins

“We really want this to be an open affair where people can learn about some experiences that often go unnoticed.”

The Washington Post notes in Harvard, black students are significantly outnumbered by their white peers, according to federal education data. The event next week is also set against the backdrop of recent tensions between the two racial groups over the past two years, caused by a couple of racially charged incidents.

Experts say the motive behind events like these are the feelings of marginalisation these students experience in their campuses. Such feelings are more pronounced on black students, of which many are the first in their families to attend or graduate from college.

“When you’re a little speck of pepper in a sea of salt, you can get lost,” the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education president M. Evelyn Fields said.

“They don’t want to just be lost in the sea. They want the recognition they believe they deserve, for the work they’ve done.”

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