A graduation ceremony honoring 4,000 students can be a bit impersonal. So many large universities, including Arizona State University, have long held separate, more intimate ceremonies for individual colleges.
But as the number of minorities graduating from colleges and universities increases nationally, minority students also are gathering among themselves for culturally themed events celebrating an accomplishment that many of their older relatives weren’t able to experience.
ASU’s American Indian convocation was Thursday, and a commencement ceremony for Hispanic students was Saturday. Similar convocations also take place in the spring, along with ceremonies for Blacks and Asian Americans.
“The convocations are to celebrate different cultures and traditions. You don’t have to be Latino or Hispanic to participate in convocation, as long as you identify with what we’re doing,” said Misty Cisneros, senior program coordinator for the ASU Cesar Chavez program, a Latino community outreach program.
By no means lesser events, the convocations are well-attended by various members of the Valley’s minority communities.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor and ASU President Michael Crow were on tap at Saturday’s event.
But the celebrations are not without controversy.
They’ve been questioned as discriminatory in some circles, but Cisneros said that’s usually due to ignorance about the event.
“Once we explain the purpose of them, people are more understanding and even appreciative of them,” she said. “People often ask if there are Irish-American commencements and all these different types of commencements, and if there were enough people for them, I’m sure the university would accommodate that.”
National experts on diversity issues in higher education say culturally themed convocations are a growing trend as universities strive to let ethnic groups know that diversity is not only welcomed, but celebrated.
“I really think they should be seen as affirmations of the accomplishments of communities that many universities shut out more than 20 years ago,” said Caryn Musil, senior vice president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities Office of Diversity, Equity and Global Initiatives.
“We have a lot of evidence that students of color (who) have support groups have higher cumulative grade point averages. I think anything that reinforces this is positive.”
About 120 students paraded into Grady Gammage Hall to the March of Zacatecas, a traditional mariachi song, Saturday. The 60 graduates honored at the American Indian convocation entered Neeb Hall to a traditional flute and drums.
The Hispanic graduates wore special sashes made from serapes, a traditional Mexican blanket, featuring the ASU logo. Native American graduates were encouraged to wear traditional dress under their caps and gowns.