As a graduating senior pursuing a degree in Temple University’s PSM Biotechnology program, I noticed that none of my professors in the College of Science and Technology are Indo-Guyanese women like myself.
I know first-hand how important it is to celebrate students’ differences and achievements, especially as I am entering a career where I am in the minority.
On March 16, Columbia University announced they will offer six additional graduation ceremonies for Indigeneous, Asian, Latino, Black, LGBTQ and first-generation students and those from low-income backgrounds. Georgetown University, Texas Woman’s University and Portland State University also have multicultural graduation ceremonies planned this year, USA Today reported.
Temple should add multicultural ceremonies that address students’ identities by incorporating traditions and celebrating contributions from each community, like wearing cultural attire, speaking in different languages and tailoring speeches for the audience. Recognizing historically marginalized individuals who graduated in a pandemic despite disproportionately low graduation rates encourages others to persevere.
On March 25, Temple announced each college will have in-person ceremonies with no guests on May 6, 7, 20 and 21 and a virtual, university-wide commencement on May 6, The Temple News reported.
Cultural graduations could be a more meaningful experience for families who can bond over a shared experience, said Cindy Nguyen, a first-generation Asian American student and senior Spanish major.
“I actually decided a while back, even before the pandemic, that I wouldn’t want to walk at graduation because of how distant it feels when there are so many names that I don’t know and how they probably don’t even care about me,” Nguyen said. “But if the graduation was split up in the first-generation or Asian American community, I would be more willing to actually attend my graduation to cheer on my friends.”
While graduation is an incredible milestone for first-generation students and their families, it did not come without obstacles.
Fifty percent of first-generation students completed a college degree in six years, in comparison to 64 percent of students whose parents went to college, according to a 2011 report by the Postsecondary National Policy Institute.
Sixty-two percent of white students completed a degree or certificate program in six years, compared to 38 percent of Black students, Inside Higher Education reported.
Temple prides itself on being a diverse school, so they should display diversity in their graduation commencements, said Sarah Abrams, a senior marketing major and Pell Grant recipient who worked since she was 14 to pay her college tuition.
“A lot of students who have parents that also went to college think college is just an extension of high school and don’t realize how big of an accomplishment graduating college is for students who are first-generation and from marginalized backgrounds,” Abrams said.
Among all undergraduates at Temple, 8.3 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 13.8 percent are African American and 12.6 percent are Asian, according to Temple’s 2020-21 fact book.
Latino undergraduate enrollment nationally more than doubled between 2000 and 2015, but their graduation rate within six years is 10 percent less than white undergraduates, PBS News reported.
Emily Gillam, a senior psychology and neuroscience major and Peruvian student, said attending a Latino commencement would make her graduation more special.
“Imagine being surrounded with other graduating students of similar backgrounds and celebrating one of the most important days in your life,” Gillam said.
Having a graduation with students who’ve struggled like me would make me more likely to attend graduation. I want my family to feel like they belong, regardless of it being online.
“It would be about much more than just my accomplishments, it would also be about the accomplishments of my community and my cultural identity,” Nguyen said.