U-M graduation celebrations support minority achievements during commencement week The first annual Asian/Pacific Islander Graduation honors Asian and Pacific-Islander-identified graduates

By Lauren Love I University of Michigan Office of Public Affairs

The end of the academic year often brings excitement for summer - warmer weather, travel, a break from lectures - but for just over 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional University of Michigan students, this year ends with graduation.

In addition to U-M's official Spring Commencement, that took place Saturday, a number of departments, organizations and affinity groups on campus hosted cultural celebrations for their graduates.

This year, the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives facilitated the first Asian/Pacific Islander celebration. The event was held on Sunday in the Michigan Union.

The Inaugural Asian/Pacific Islander Graduation Celebration

"I feel very connected to the API community on campus," said Vikrant Garg who participated in the celebration. "I was able to celebrate my identity since it has largely shaped the person I was when I got to college, and who I am now."

Garg graduated with a master's degree in public health from the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education in the School of Public Health. In the fall, he will begin medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago.

President Mark Schlissel encouraged graduates to remember every part of their U-M experience during the 2018 Spring Commencement at Michigan Stadium.

Graduation celebrations like the API celebration are not commencement ceremonies where students get separate degrees. Instead, they are celebrations that honor the accomplishments of the minority populations at the University.

"These celebrations supplement the traditional U-M graduation and are held during graduation week to express appreciation for the achievements, commonalities and cultural differences that characterize the experiences of our diverse student body," said Gloria Derr Taylor, director of OAMI.

Other celebrations that took place throughout the week and weekend included the Middle Eastern/North African Celebration, Native Student Celebration, Black Celebratory, La Celebración Latina and Lavender Graduation, hosted by the Spectrum Center.

Lavender Graduation

Lavender Graduation is an annual ceremony conducted on numerous campuses across the county to honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally students and to acknowledge their achievements and contributions to the University.

Participants say the ceremonies are a way of celebrating their shared experience as a group, and not a rejection of official college graduations, which they also attend.

"As a transgender woman, I don't see myself represented on campus," said Emily Kaufman. "In fact, my freshman year I knew of only one out, transgender girl at the entire university. Lavender Graduation allowed me one final time to be out and proud as a transgender woman at the University of Michigan."

Kaufman graduated with a degree in women's studies and will spend this summer in Washington, D.C., as an intern for Sen. Christopher Coon of Delaware.

Nadine Jawad and Jad Elharke during Spring Commencement with keynote speaker and former Michigan Wolverine Charles Woodson.

Middle Eastern/North African celebration

For first-generation college graduate Jad Elharake, the Middle Eastern/North African celebration is a special moment and one of the main highlights of the year.

"It was born out of a need to recognize the large population of previously unrecognized graduates," he said.

During his time at U-M, Elharake was a member of the Islamophobia Working Group and spent time advocating for the need of a Middle Eastern/North African category on university documents and forms that collect demographic data.

"Constrained by Census categories, we were expected to check the white box," said Elharake. "Many people of Middle Eastern and North African descent do not identify with or have the lived experiences of being white in the U.S., especially in a post-9/11 environment of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism. The lack of an identity box for U-M's ME/NA students perpetuates the erasure that many marginalized communities experience."

Earlier this year, the university officially agreed to implement the ME/NA box on university documents.

Black Celebratory

Black Celebratory

In addition to the traditional sorority and fraternity strolls across stage, the Black Celebratory ceremony also featured a marriage proposal.

As Taylor Thurman walked across the stage to shake hands with U-M faculty, she was surprised to see another familiar face standing at the end of the stage - her boyfriend Gregory Tremble.

In the midst of her disbelief, Tremble got down on one knee and asked for her hand in marriage. In one afternoon, the Detroit native who earned a bachelor's degree in biopsychology, cognition and neuroscience, picked up her diploma and an engagement ring.

"It was an amazing feeling that really signified this new chapter of my life that I'm embarking on," Thurman said.

Along with wedding planning, Thurman plans to work as a research assistant in Ann Arbor over the summer and in the future plans to apply to an accelerated nursing program.

La Celebración Latina

La Celebración Latina

With a renewed commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, U-M strives to be a community that allows all individuals an equal opportunity to thrive.

New York native Gloriela Iguina-Colón described La Celebración Latina as the culmination of her identity awakening that has been four years in the making. As a Puerto Rican student who attended predominately White schools, Iguina-Colón said it wasn't until she came to U-M that she felt she had a group of people who understood her experience as a Latina in the U.S.

"Since my first week in [Assisting Latinx to Maximize Achievement Program], I felt so loved and comfortable to be myself-- speak Spanish, bond over Rebelde and dance to salsa at Bar Louie," she said. "I have also learned so much from my fellow Latinx classmates. The Latinx community is not a monolith, and yet we feel connected through a much greater sense of unity and culture."

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Lauren Love

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