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Updated 1:30 PM April 26, 2008




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Special graduation celebrations offer individualized recognition
of diverse groups

Related story:
Five outstanding seniors have stories to tell >

For graduating students, sharing the pomp and circumstance of Spring Commencement with some 30,000 people is a great thrill. But for a number of students, it is equally, if not more, rewarding to be recognized for their accomplishments during smaller events that, though open to all, celebrate diverse groups at the University.
A graduate attends the 2007 La Celebración Latina at U-M. (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

In recent and upcoming days the Black Celebratory, La Celebración Latina, the Native American Student Association Graduation, the Lavender Graduation, and the Ginsberg Awards for Service and Social Action, among others, honor graduating students in venues that allow for more individualized recognition of their achievements.

"The en masse celebration of commencement is an occasion to be remembered at U-M, but through these smaller events we seek to recognize the uniqueness of diverse groups, and to honor their academic success and contributions in a more personal way," says John Matlock, associate vice provost for academic affairs and director, Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI). "All students at the celebrations participate in their respective commencements, and we are delighted that students, their families and friends take part in these special events. More than 2,000 people come to Black Celebratory, which typically does not end until 10 Saturday evening."

The 14th Annual Black Celebratory begins at 7:30 p.m. April 26 in Hill Auditorium. According to the celebration Web site, the planning committee for the event "institutes this annual celebration to honor, respect and remember those from our past and present communities who could only dream of this opportunity. This ceremony marks a tradition of valuing our cultural offerings not only to the University but beyond, to the world community."
Students congratulate each other at the 2007 Black Celebratory Commencement. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

Mykia Long isn't graduating this year, but she is helping to organize the celebration and will work the day of the event attending to many details. Long, a junior who works at OAMI, says the Black Celebratory is a time for African-American students to reconnect with people they may not have seen since high school, and to celebrate their common heritage.

"We know our experiences are different than other students," Long says, adding that as high school students this year's class witnessed the University's victory in the U.S. Supreme Court on affirmative action, and then as U-M students saw the passage of Proposal 2, which banned most forms of affirmative action with regard to race, ethnicity, gender and national origin in public education, employment and contracting.

"It's important to see that the community itself shows how much it values African-American students on campus," she says of the commitment to diversity demonstrated at the event and other activities throughout the year.

The Native American Student Association Graduation was to be held Sunday. A highlight of the event is the traditional gift of a Pendleton blanket to each student. This year six graduates were to receive the blanket — considered a great honor in their communities — to celebrate their successes, says Conner Sandefur, a Ph.D. candidate in bioinformatics who was one of the celebration organizers. Sandefur, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in computer science from George Washington University, says he never participated in such an event as an undergraduate.

"We didn't have this type of ceremony and I think it's really incredible," he says. "It's a small community but a close community, so people (who have graduated from U-M) come back to celebrate with our graduates."

Casey Kasper is one of the six students honored over the weekend.

"The event gives Native American students on campus a chance to meet together one last time," Kasper says. "It is rare to have Native American students finish college. This honor is special. It is much more individual, offering a greater focus on their accomplishments."

View a slide show of the Native American Student Association Graduation at

La Celebracíon Latina is 8 p.m. April 25 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. The program Web site says the celebration "is not only to recognize the achievements and cultural significance of the Latino community, but also to give incentive to future students to reach the ultimate goal of graduation.

"The purpose of La Celebración Latina is to celebrate our graduates, as well as to show respect to everyone who helped them make this wonderful achievement, including family members, friends, faculty, staff and administrators," Kasper says.

Lavender Graduation will be from 4:30-6:30 p.m. April 24 in the Michigan Union Pendleton Room. Since 1995 the ceremony has been held "to honor lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and to acknowledge their achievements and contributions to the University," according to the Spectrum Center Web site.

Also held earlier this month were the Rosalie Ginsberg Awards for Service and Social Action and the 29th Michigan Leadership Awards Ceremony. The Ginsberg event recognized U-M and local partners for their commitments to community service and social action. Students, faculty, departments and community organizations were honored during the April 11 event. For a list, go to

Provost Teresa Sullivan and Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper recognized student leaders, organizations and programs during the April 3 Michigan Leadership Awards ceremony. Each year the Division of Student Affairs recognizes exemplary achievement by students who exhibit enthusiasm and initiative, and who provide formal or informal leadership and service to the University community. Also recognized are those who demonstrate a steadfast commitment to learning, education and living, in support of the quest for social justice in human relationships. A student organization is recognized at the event for providing a program that enhances the community and its institutional values, and for fostering student involvement. To read about this year's honorees, go to

For a complete list of all Commencement events, go to

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