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Students across the University will hold the first-ever commencement ceremony for black students on May 23 in an effort to bring black students across schools together and acknowledge challenges that students of color may face at Harvard.
Organized by black students across Harvard’s graduate schools, the event will feature speeches from students, alumni, and administrators. It will also honor alumni Aaron Bray and Tonika Morgan with the Black Legacy Award for their contributions to black student life. Bray and Morgan graduated from the Law School and Graduate School of Education, respectively, in 2016.
The event, called Black Commencement 2017, has more than 170 student and 530 guest sign-ups so far, according to the Boston Globe.
Michael Huggins, president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, began organizing the event after finishing his first year at the Kennedy School, where he noticed an absence of programming to connect black graduates across disciplines. Huggins completed his bachelor’s degree at Stanford from 2010, where he noted a “long tradition” of similar graduation ceremonies for black alumni.
“I think there’s so many good opportunities to build networks, to build fellowship, to build community,” Huggins said. “This is an opportunity to hear stories that are often not told.”
Kristin A. Turner, president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, said the event looks to help black students “claim our visibility” at the University, an institution that has historically been majority white.
“We chose Black Commencement as not only a commemoration of all the different dynamics that go into being a person of color at Harvard University, but also a celebration of what an accomplishment it is to not only come out on the other side,” Turner said.
Four students, who will all graduate later this month, were selected to speak at the event and will highlight various parts of the black student experience at Harvard, according to Huggins and Courtney A. Woods, a student at the Graduate School of Education.
Woods said her own speech will discuss “what it means to walk across the stage and symbolically bringing my family, my community.”
The planned ceremony comes as Harvard’s student body becomes increasingly diverse and the University attempts to grapple with its historical ties to slavery.
Organizers of the event said this history often complicated their experiences at Harvard.
“I will be frank and say that of course there have been times where I’ve felt isolated,” Woods said. “But that doesn’t mean that my experience at Harvard is something I don’t want to remember and cherish for the rest of my life.”
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