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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Students, families participate in community-specific graduations

Eight seconds, for many, may not seem like a meaningful amount of time, or a long enough time for anything significant to occur. But for Alejandro Sandoval and other graduates who will be present at the 2013 Chicano and Latino Graduation Celebration on June 15, it will be a significant eight seconds indeed.

“Each person gets eight seconds to make a speech,” said Sandoval, a fourth-year sociology and Chicano studies double major and soon-to-be graduate. “It’s more memorable.”

The Chicano and Latino Graduation Celebration is one of many community-specific graduation celebrations celebrating the accomplishments and identities of UC Davis graduates, including the Black Graduation Celebration, Filipino Graduation Celebration, Southeast Asian Graduation Celebration, South Asian Middle Eastern Graduation Celebration, Muslim Student Association Graduation Celebration, Native American Graduation Celebration, Asian American Studies (ASA) Senior Awards Banquet and the Lavender Graduation Celebration.

“I think it adds a lot to the graduation experience,” Sandoval said. “It’s more personal; you’re with 200 other students for Chicano grad.”

According to Sheri Atkinson, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC), this will be the 17th annual Lavender Graduation Celebration at UC Davis.

“Lavender Graduation provides a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and community to recognize the accomplishments of UC Davis lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and ally (LGBTQIA) graduates,” Atkinson said in an email. “It encourages LGBTIQA students to celebrate their accomplishments and academic endeavors at [UC Davis] while providing inspiration to other undergraduates.”

Lavender graduations, also known as rainbow graduations, are common at other universities, especially those with LGBT resource centers, Atkinson said.

“Recognition is important for the many contributions these graduates have provided to the campus and the LGBTIQA community,” Atkinson said. “I think these graduations are important acknowledgements of the success of underrepresented and underserved communities.”

Although all the celebrations share this spirit of recognition and celebration, the format and details of each event vary.

“The event includes dinner, a few speakers including Provost Hexter and a student keynote speaker, recognition of the graduates and presentation of the Angelina Malfitano Award to one of the graduates,” Atkinson said.

According to Jinann Bitar, Native American student affairs officer for the Native American Studies (NAS) Department, some of the celebrations are connected to their respective departments, such as Native American Studies, while others are connected to student organizations.

Participants in the Native American Graduation Celebration include students who identify as Native American, as well as NAS majors and minors.

“Identity-specific student organizations want a way to have their families join them in celebrating their accomplishments,” Bitar said. “We want to provide a space for them to join their students.”

Bitar acknowledged that the vast amount of students in the college commencement ceremonies often limits the amount of tickets available to each undergraduate. These ceremonies aim to celebrate not only the students, but also the collective efforts and sacrifices of the students and their families.

In addition to accommodating family members and other supporters, these graduations provide opportunities for cultural celebration and increased student retention, Bitar said. Cultural customs can be incorporated into what is not just a graduation celebration but also a reaffirmation of identity that students may have been exploring and defining during their college years.

“Native grad also impacts student retention. They’re seeing other students within their major or who they identify with, and prospective students also see students graduating who they may identify with as well,” Bitar said. “Retention and cultural celebration — there aren’t a lot of other opportunities for that.”

While these graduation ceremonies share a common goal of celebration, they share something else that may not be as readily apparent.

“None of them have specific funding from the university,” Bitar said.

According to Bitar, organizers of graduation celebrations must seek out funding for these events at the beginning of each year from within the university as well as private donors. Most participants in graduation celebrations have to pay a fee to supplement the cost of the event. The Native American Graduation Celebration is the only such celebration in which students do not have to pay a fee due to private donors.

ASUCD currently provides $4,000 to fund community-specific graduations. A bill proposed on May 2, Senate Bill 94, would have increased funding by $1,300.

According to the preamble of the ASUCD Constitution, “The Association is also constituted to create and provide services and activities which its membership shall consider important to fulfilling the experience of being a student attending the University of California, Davis.”

Senate Bill 94 failed to pass at this year’s ASUCD budget hearings.

“Programs and services for these communities have limited funds, and we count on financial support from others to be able to provide these types of events,” Atkinson said.

MEREDITH STURMER can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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