It’s where the pomp and circumstance of tradition gives way to the jubilation of a cultural heritage celebration.
For decades, Cal Poly Pomona graduates have participated in cultural graduation ceremonies, donning specialized sashes, leis and tassels. Dance troupes and drummers provide entertainment, and graduates get a chance to thank their loved ones in their native language.
Buoyed by students pushing to finish before the switch to semesters this fall and a greater awareness of the events, several of the cultural centers experienced an increase in participation.
The Raza Graduation, in its 24th year, had around 300 graduates participate in 2017. More than 500 students signed up to walk in the bilingual event this year. For the first time, the event will be held in the Kellogg Arena to accommodate a larger crowd.
“First of all, it’s celebrating their academic accomplishments,” said Angelica Ibarra, interim coordinator of the César Chávez Center for Higher Education. “But it is also a time to acknowledge for first-generation and Latino students in general that there are additional hardships. It’s an opportunity to come together and share that moment.”
Organizers aim to be as inclusive as possible. Each graduate will get a sash made of Peruvian material, Ibarra said. They plan to display flags from all of the Latin American countries. A samba group and the band Yanga, which mixes Afro-Colombian, cumbia, folk and roots music, will perform. The ceremony will include an Aztec blessing.
By making the ceremony a celebration of culture, the students and their families get a chance to be seen in a distinct way, Ibarra said.
“We should be color-blind people say, but by not seeing my color, you’re not seeing my sacrifices. You’re not seeing my story. You’re not seeing all that my family has endured, and most importantly, you’re not seeing all of the accomplishments my family has made.”
Participation in the 26th annual Pan-African Graduation also increased this year. In 2017, 63 graduates participated. This year, 76 will don stoles and red, green and gold tassels. That is a significant increase for a university where African-American students make up just 3 percent of the population, said Tashiana Bryant Myrick, coordinator of the African American Student Center.
Bryant Myrick said that participation has been growing since 2014, when the fee to walk in the ceremony was eliminated.
“Cultural graduations are essential events to the campus,” Bryant Myrick said. “They are a part of the campus culture. We have learned from students that cultural graduations are the favorite event to go to.”
This year, organizers plan to recognize students graduating with at least 3.0 GPA in a segment highlighting post-graduation plans. Incoming Black Broncos also have been invited to attend the ceremony as a symbolic passing of the torch, she said. Graduating students will give keynote addresses and all of the students participating will get 30 seconds to say their thank yous.
“That’s what makes these graduations so special,” Bryant Myrick said. “It is a way to celebrate in ways you already know, what had made you happy and what you’ve grown up with. Cultural graduation is an opportunity for our community to celebrate in our own way.”
The Pan-Asian Graduation Celebration, which is in its 17th year, also has seen a rise in participation in the last few years. In 2017, 140 registered for the event. This year, 200 have signed up.
Thavery Lay-Bounpraseuth, coordinator of the Asian & Pacific Islander Student Center, said she has tapped into the university’s graduation list to email students and sent personal invitations about the Pan-Asian Graduation Celebration.
Because the Asian community is so diverse, organizers work with student organization to be as inclusive as possible. This year’s ceremony will include a traditional Filipino dance performed by the student organization Barkada and the Indian Students Association from Cal State Fullerton.
Students participating in the celebration won’t wear their caps and gowns. Instead, they are encouraged to dress in their traditional attire or business wear. They will be given handmade eyelash yarn leis. The program will include a lion dance team as part of the procession. A faculty member and a graduating senior will give speeches, and each of the graduates will get about 20 seconds to talk.
“Graduation is a huge accomplishment, so having time and space to celebrate with family and friends and professors who helped them along the way is important,” Lay-Bounpraseuth said. “They are able to speak in their native language. There is a beauty in being able to speak from the heart. And for the parents and families to be able to understand and to have that connection, it’s beautiful and heartfelt for them to hear.”
Other cultural graduations include the 11 students at the Native American Graduation & Scholarship Recognition. The Pride Center will have 30 students participating in its Lavender Graduation Celebration.
The Women’s Resource Center will hold its inaugural pinning ceremony this year with 18 students. The event is an intimate gathering of students and a guest for each that has personally influenced their journey at Cal Poly Pomona, said Sydney Abril Torres, coordinator of the center.
Women’s Resource Center Pinning Ceremony
Wednesday, May 30 in the BSC – Orion Suite
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org, ext. 4492
Lavender Graduation Thursday, May 31, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the BSC – Ursa Major
Information: email@example.com, ext. 3601
Friday, June 1, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the BSC – Ursa Major
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org, ext. 5025
Native American Graduation & Scholarship Recognition
Saturday, June 2, from noon to 2 p.m. in the BSC – Ursa Minor
Information: email@example.com, ext. 6877
Saturday, June 2, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the Kellogg Arena
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org, ext. 5039
Pan-African Graduation Sunday, June 3, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Kellogg Arena
Information: email@example.com, ext. 3642