Students from the Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences gathered to kick off commencement week at the inaugural “Multicultural Graduation Celebrations.”
The May 15 celebrations featured a joint multicultural reception for graduate students as well as three separate celebrations for students of Asian, Hispanic/Latinx and African American heritage. Students gave speeches at the events and special stoles were distributed to celebrate students’ heritages.
The celebrations come after graduate students led an email campaign advocating for the creation of more spaces that recognize the cultural diversity of the graduate schools in May 2021. Until this year, multicultural graduation ceremonies had only been held for the undergraduate student body.
Olivia Beech (GRD ’23), who spoke at Harambee, the ceremony for students of African American heritage, said multicultural ceremonies are important for recognizing the achievements of minority students at Georgetown.
“I think having Multicultural ceremonies and celebrations like this is a wonderful step to improving minority visibility and appreciation on campus,” Beech wrote to The Hoya. “I certainly felt empowered when I shared my experience as a woman of color in that auditorium. That’s something others should feel as well.”
Beech said that despite the challenges she faces as a minority, the support she received from faculty throughout her time at Georgetown served as a source of motivation and encouragement.
“I have been surrounded and taught by some of the best individuals in this profession and honestly, getting to know them as people and not just professors and colleagues means everything to me,” Beech wrote. “Honestly the relationships I’ve formed while being a graduate student are what I will always cherish the most. They helped me smile when I truly needed it.”
Simran Rajput (GRD ’22), who spoke at the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American ceremony, said as a women of color STEM major she often felt feelings of isolation within the higher education system.
“For a long time, I did not fully recognize my identity as a woman of color in the sciences,” Rajput wrote to The Hoya. “Sometimes it can feel as if the entire system was designed to be against our progress.”
Rajput’s favorite part of the celebrations was the sense of community they created, as faculty and students alike came together to honor the accomplishments and heritages of Georgetown’s graduates.
Rajput said although the campus community is composed of many different backgrounds and identities, students share a love for making their communities better.
“Our classmates and friends all have different places of worship, different home-spoken languages, different New Years’, and many other different cultural values, but one aspect that makes us seem like one is our integrity, respect, and level of dedication to higher education,” Rajput wrote. “Despite coming from various backgrounds, we all have one purpose in studying: to better society for coming generations.”
Lorena Chirinos (GRD ’22), a member of the event’s student planning committee, said she is glad the celebrations united graduate students with similar identities.
“Personally, I loved seeing myself reflected in other Latinxs who attended the ceremony,” Chirinos wrote to The Hoya. “It was incredible to realize how much in common we all have as immigrants, minorities, and/or international students.”
Andreia Barcellos (GRD ’22), who spoke at the Despedida ceremony, said she used the opportunity to speak about her own experiences at Georgetown.
“It is not always easy to walk into a room with an accent,” Barcellos wrote to The Hoya. “It is not always easy to navigate visa processes, stereotypes, or having to work extra hard for opportunities. But the reality of looking, dressing, and sounding different, that is who we are, and we must wear it with pride.”
Barcellos said she hopes the multicultural celebrations will remind graduates to continue to reflect on and cherish their heritage even after leaving Georgetown.
“Remember this moment: we are graduating from Georgetown University, a traditional American school. And with us, we brought to this traditional school our colors, language, foods, dances, and traditions,” Barcellos told the audience at Despedida. “Let’s never forget to bring who we are with us. Because the world can use more people who are true to themselves and who haven’t forgotten where they came from.”
Kyra Green, assistant director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, which organized the celebrations, said the events were well received.
“The energy and enthusiasm surrounding the events was contagious,” Green wrote to The Hoya. “For many students, this was one of very few times they were able to connect with peers from a multitude of programs and disciplines who shared such an integral facet of their identities.”
Green said it is important to hold celebrations that honor students’ diverse identities.
“Multicultural events like this are essential because at our core, we all want to feel that we belong,” Green wrote. “We want to know that our presence in a space where we have given so much of ourselves has mattered, made an impact, is worthy of notice and celebration.”