Last week in our local newspaper there was a small item about graduation ceremonies being held at our local state university.
ETHNIC GRADUATION EVENTS ANNOUNCED.
Two ethnic-oriented graduation ceremonies are set for June 4 at Cal State San Bernardino's Coussoulis Arena.
The Fifth Annual Latino Graduation Day ceremony will be celebrated at 2:30 p.m. on Friday. There is a $20 registration fee to graduates, which covers the cost of a cultural sash to wear at commencement....Later the same day, from 7-9:30 p.m. the Black Faculty, Staff and Students Association will present its 18th annual Black Graduation recognition ceremony in Coussoulis Arena. The cost is $50 for participants....
To say I was dumbfounded is an understatement. Just the week before I had watched the PBS documentary "Freedom Riders" and was once again horrified at what happened to those brave souls, black and white, who risked their lives for equality. With that in my mind, I could not believe that now two minority groups in the U.S. were using that hard earned freedom to have their own, separate graduation ceremonies - one all-Black and one all-Latino.
I immediately went online to the CSUSB website, because I could hardly believe that what I was read was what it appeared to be. And it wasn't.
Apparently these are private events and both groups welcome guests. The regular Graduation Ceremonies for all the various disciplines are scheduled for next weekend -- and undoubtedly will be multicultural, multiethnic and multidiscipline, as they should be.
But back to yesterday's events: The official title for the Latino event was called "Latino Graduation Recognition Ceremony and Reception" and likewise for the blacks, "Black Graduation Recognition Ceremony." The first was sponsored by the Association of Latino Faculty, Staff and students and the second by the Black Faculty Students and Staff Association.
Once I had done my homework and clarified the difference between the formal commencement activities and the "ethnic-oriented graduation ceremonies" as noted in the newspaper, I was ok with the University's plans. However, I was NOT ok with the newspaper's article. The reporter is normally writes a good story; he missed the boat on this one. And that can be attested by the letters to the editor that appeared this week as a result of that little article. It wasn't that the readers misunderstood what was written; that article just wasn't written clearly. No clarification was ever forthcoming from the newspaper to help readers understand. And that's too bad.
Do I feel better now than I did at first? Well, maybe a little. I like to believe groups can form for certain purposes and ought not to be told who they can and can't include. I tend to think that if public money is involved there should be great latitude in membership. I find a great gap in reconciling the blacks fight for equality and the banding together at a public university for a Black Graduation Recognition Ceremony and Reception sponsored by a Black Faculty, Students and Staff Association, in which guests are invited to wear traditional African cultural clothing.
I guess I am caught in a "then and now" time warp. I am old enough to remember the bigotry of the past, the Freedom Riders, Emmitt Till, Bull Connor, Old Miss, and the bridge at Selma -- and probably not young enough to not have the burden of all that on my shoulders like many of the youngsters today.
But I don't have to particularly like the idea of ethnic-oriented celebrations in a public university.