As music began to play, all eyes were on the screen displaying the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Hundreds of graduates stood and sang along to the “black national anthem,” Chaide Wynn said, president of the Black Student Alliance Council. In the nearly full Bethancourt Ballroom at the Memorial Student Center, students stood arm in arm, gently swaying — The Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American community, along with the Latinx community, standing shoulder to shoulder with the African American community.
The inaugural Student Success and Multicultural Graduation was hosted by the Department of Multicultural Services of Texas A&M University on April 17 for about 300 guests and 125 graduates.
The event, which was planned by DMS advisors and representatives from the Asian Presidents’ Council, the Black Student Alliance Council and the Hispanic Presidents’ Council, strived to celebrate the successes and culture of graduates from these communities, program coordinator for the DMS Varselles Cummings said. Graduates were presented with one of three stoles, depending on their cultural background, on the stage at the ceremony following a reception, performances and speeches.
The importance of continuing promoting diversity and inclusion is essential to the success of A&M, said President Michael K. Young in his graduation address. The graduates exemplify the hard work that goes into graduating from an institution of higher learning, he said.
“You are the poster children for the accomplishments that you bring to this university,” Young said during his remarks.
According to the Office for Diversity website, the population of Asian, Black and Hispanic students has grown from 3,554; 2,167 and 11,286, respectively in fall 2014 to 5,225; 2,405 and 14,750 in fall 2018. In 2014, there were a total of 62,231 students in fall 2014 and 69,367 in fall 2018.
Different student organizations have been having discussions about cultural graduations for years but the DMS wanted to bring it all together, Cummings said.
During the ceremony, student achievements were recognized and the event was divided into three parts that highlighted the APIDA, African American and Latinx community. Each cultural council shared a video of their community and invited speakers and performers to help them celebrate before the graduates walked across the stage.
Cummings said he has participated in various cultural graduations as a high school and college student.
“This is not a new thing,” Cummings said. “It is new to A&M, but it is not a new concept.”
The ceremony was a self-led effort that embodies the leadership model at Texas A&M: student-led and student-run, the vice president of Student Affairs Daniel Pugh said. The ceremony was designed to give students a space to recognize each other's achievements.
“What an opportunity to celebrate each other… that to me is absolutely critical,” Pugh said.
Students grow and evolve during their time on campus, student keynote speaker and agribusiness senior Patrick Patraca said. As a first generation student, Patraca felt the pressure of navigating college. He also said he never felt alone.
“No one got to where we are today without the help of others,” Patraca said. “There was always someone that cheered us on. Someone that supported us and pushed us past the comfortable little bubbles that we stick to.”
At the graduation ceremony, students sat side by side, waiting to walk across the stage to be draped with a stole that each cultural council had come up with to represent their community, Cummings said.
The Black Student Alliance Council chose traditional Kente cloths to award to each graduate. Since the 1970s, African American graduates wear the kente cloth stoles to their graduation to symbolize their pride in their heritage, as well as their pride in graduating, Wynn said.
“The origins of Kente cloth date back to 12th century Africa, in the country of Ghana,” Wynn said. “The cloth was worn by Kings, Queens and important figures of state in Ghanaian society, during ceremonial events and special occasions. The Adinkra symbol on the bottom of the stole represents lifelong learning and the boundless knowledge.”
The Hispanic Presidents’ Council created a traditional sarape stole with maroon colors, said the president of HPC Juan Ortiz.
“We chose this stole because we feel that the graduates can see the colors and remind themselves that they are part of a bigger culture,” Ortiz said. “Yes, we come from different backgrounds, but at the end of the day our struggles unite us.”
The APIDA community does not have a traditional stole, so the Asian Presidents’ Council designed one that incorporated elements from the different regions in Asia, according to the president of APC Cindy Lam.
The design was chosen to be inclusive to the entire APIDA community, the vice president external for APC Ellen Dangtran said.
“The designs on the stole represents textile patterns that are unique to the various regions in Asia,” Dangtran said. “The colors maroon and silver are to represent Texas A&M University.”
The Hispanic President’s Council conducted their portion of the ceremony both in English and Spanish to accommodate families that do not speak English, Ortiz said.
“They know we are in school, but trying to explain to them our achievements or organizations when there is a language barrier, is a hard task in itself already,” Ortiz said. “It is nice to have this as an option today, and make them feel included in a unique moment in our life like graduation is.”
The Multicultural Graduation ceremony was an opportunity for students to come together inclusive of differences in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class and religion, and celebrate one another, vice president for diversity Robin Means Coleman said.
“This marks a moment at Texas A&M University where you are seen,” Coleman said in her remarks. “If someone cries separatism about this celebration, you tell them don’t waste your time because this is a celebration of unity and inclusion.”