Students celebrate 5th annual Black graduation

The Black Awareness Coordinating Committee hosted the annual event on May 4

Carlos Ortiz

Graduates make their way in to the fifth annual Black graduation ceremony held on May 4.

The road to a master’s degree in business administration has been a long one for Emmanuelle Gourene ’23 (management information systems). Gourene came to RIT from Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. She had to travel thousands of miles from home, adapt to a new culture, and face the COVID pandemic. She celebrated her second RIT degree with her peers on Saturday, May 4, during the fifth annual Black graduation ceremony.

“I made lifelong connections here with a lot of people from different backgrounds and I really enjoyed it,” said Gourene. “It’s a celebration of our culture and of our identity. It’s important to celebrate our common achievements.”

The graduation event, hosted by the Black Awareness Coordinating Committee (BACC), began with a breakfast in the Dyer Gallery and was followed by a ceremony in the Panara Theatre. Minett Professor Sherry Tshibangu addressed the graduates during the ceremony, sharing that the graduates’ journeys were taken with exceptional courage, and that their legacy is one to be continued. Afterward, a reception with music, food, and dancing took place in the SHED.

Black graduation is held to uplift and highlight Black students and unify not just the Black community but the entire RIT community.

“A lot of individuals in our community who are graduating and participated in Black graduation are leaders in a lot of organizations,” said Key’mon Jenkins, a third-year computer engineering student and vice president of BACC. “We wanted to make this a big celebration to honor them.”

The first Black graduation was held in 2019, in part to acknowledge that Black students face some of the lowest degree completion rates in the nation. After going remote in 2020, it has continued to grow each year. This year’s ceremony was capped at 75 students, but all were welcome to attend.

“I think that growth is essential because every year you want to see something different, you want to see additions to graduation,” said Guerline Guerrier, a third-year biomedical sciences major and president of the BACC. “I really wanted to give these seniors a good Black graduation because they were the COVID year. We’re replacing the one they missed, really.”

Many intimate graduation ceremonies have started on campus the past few years, including rainbow graduation and Latinx graduation, giving students a chance to celebrate fellow students who they may identify with the most.

“Watching this celebration of our Black graduates grow over the years has been great to see,” said Keith Jenkins, vice president and associate provost for Diversity and Inclusion. “It is to be applauded when students recognize the importance of honoring their peers.”

The importance of celebrating fellow students resonates within the Black community on RIT’s campus. Many students helped in the planning and executing of the event, even though their graduation day is a few years away.

“It is a very integral to build community and hold that strong, and represent from the start to the finish,” said second-year software engineering major Jaime Offeiokyne. “Being part of a community gives you the space that is going to transcend you, even beyond college.”

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