NMU’s Student Equity and Engagement Center will be hosting its first ever Multicultural Graduation Celebration for students and community members this coming Saturday.
The celebration recognizes the achievements of graduating students of color — both domestic and international, said Stefani Vargas, coordinator for the Student Equity and Engagement Center and co-chair of the President’s Committee on Diversity.
“I think it’s deeply important to recognize the accomplishments of racially and ethnically marginalized students who have a lower rate of retention and face more systemic challenges as they go through higher education,” Vargas said.
Not all students face the same journey or challenges, from the time they enter NMU’s doors to the time they walk across the stage, Vargas said.
“We acknowledge that students of color face intensive challenges and we want to give them that extra time to celebrate and to share cultural celebration with the campus,” Vargas said. “The student’s that are participating have expressed that they’ve worked really hard, not just in academics, but in organizing within their communities and in one another.”
The event will be co-hosted by the Center for Native American Studies and the McNair Scholars Program. A brief ceremony will follow the graduation with refreshments, music, a “distinguished alumni of color” keynote speaker and more. Graduates need to register on the Hub to receive a cord and stole to participate in the celebration. Attendees do not have to register and all faculty, staff, students and community members are welcome to attend.
This is the first time a multicultural graduation celebration is taking place on NMU’s campus. Northern is one of the few university’s in Michigan that does not already have the celebration, so Vargas partnered with Lee Xiong, program director of the McNair Scholars Program and Amber Morseau, director of the Center for Native American Studies to implement the ceremony.
Vargas said the President’s Committee on Diversity sponsored part of the event.
“We’ve also added lavender graduation for our LGBTQ students, we had the first one last semester and we’ll host another next semester,” Vargas said.
The graduation will be more intimate than what it would be on a larger stage. A brief biography will be read about each student, emphasizing what they’ve achieved academically or non-academically and announcing their majors and minors, Vargas said.
Bazile Panek, senior Native American Studies major and president of NMU’s Native American Student Association and Gary Trombley, senior Native American Studies major and NASA member, will open the ceremony with a song from the Morning Thunder Drums and partake in the graduation itself.
“It’ll be a unique way to celebrate my graduation, my fellow graduates and play a role in honoring them,” Panek said. “I think we should all be pretty proud of ourselves as minority students as we’re graduating.”
Opening for NMU’s first ever multicultural graduation celebration is a huge honor and a big moment as a graduate and as a drum keeper of the Morning Thunder Drums, said Panek.
“The opportunity to celebrate my fellow graduates and honor them is important because I’m really proud of our student body, especially Native American Students who are graduating,” Panek said. “We’re graduating and achieving this milestone together.”
The Morning Thunder Drums is a drum used primarily in Marquette and is known to the Native American community as the “heartbeat.” The use of drums is a way for the community to honor students, and has been done for thousands of years on Anishinaabe territory, said Panek. The songs that come with it serve different purposes such as an honor song, opening song or a closing song, said Panek.
“The song almost says ‘goodbye, farewell to graduates,’ which we’ll probably be singing after the graduation ceremony,” Panek said.
The drum has a large significance and is recognized as a living being, as a spirit and is helping to share that spirit and everything that comes with it through the sounds of the drum, said Panek.
“If students have never heard the drum before, they’ll really enjoy it,” Panek said. “It’s definitely something that you have to experience and the moment where you’re looking at others and just listening to the song is pretty impactful and meaningful.”
The graduation is a smaller ceremony, and is a space to be proud and celebrate yourself and your peers. It will give us the time and space to really dedicate conversation towards our similar experiences and getting to know the people sitting next to us to understand what everyone’s college experiences looked like, said Panek.
“As minority students we experience imposter syndrome, like ‘I shouldn’t be here, I don’t deserve my degree’ and other related thoughts,” Panek said. “Let’s really use this space to be proud of ourselves and appreciate and celebrate the work we’ve done to get to this day.”
After the ceremony has closed there will be music and a wide variety of cultural foods, said Vargas.
The SEEC has partnered with NMU’s Executive Chef Alden Griffus who created a tasting menu with cultural foods including spring rolls, tamales, cedar tea and decolonized items that are truly Indigenous recipes, said Vargas.
“Not only can you come, chat with everyone and the graduates, listen to cool music but you can taste food from all these different cultures,” Vargas said.
As students and attendees enjoy their food, music from some of the students’ cultures will play.
Vargas encourages any graduate, undergrad or grad student to participate in the celebration and to “come as you are.”
“Even if you’re just looking for something to do that evening, join us and learn a little bit more about all the different cultures we have on-campus,” Vargas said. “There’s plenty of room, food and time to hang out.”
Darren Simmons, senior Medicinal Plant Chemistry major said he is looking forward to the multicultural celebration itself and the opportunity to showcase his and other students’ achievements.
For Simmons, this is his first graduation ceremony.
“I think it’s great that NMU decided to implement this for the students and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Simmons said.
As history has shown, we weren’t allowed to educate ourselves and many generations have been held back, said Simmons.
“Just being able to, you know, talk about and celebrate it is important,” Simmons said. “We should attend these ceremonies to show that, ‘yes, we’re graduating too.’”
Getting to know classmates through the celebration will help in understanding each other a bit more, said Simmons.
“Being able to discuss where we all come from, our upbringings and sharing those stories is pretty cool,” Simmons said.
Students, faculty and community members can attend the graduation Saturday, April 16 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Northern Center.