Commencement ceremonies at colleges and universities across America venerate the accomplishments of students who have committed themselves to satisfactorily completing their academic programs of study. For graduates, their family, friends, and those who played some part in their educational experience, this is truly a proud day, a day that will always be remembered as special. As I recently attended Commencement ceremonies for various individuals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my position about Commencement ceremonies at predominantly White colleges and universities just not being the same as Commencement ceremonies at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) was reaffirmed. University of Wisconsin-Madison has over 43,000 students, with African-American students composing less than 2% of the student population. (African-American students are still the largest student minority group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.) University of Wisconsin-Madison, like other predominantly White colleges and universities, has a small population of Black graduates who participate in Commencement exercises. While this small Black population of graduates, their Black friends, and Black families bring some elements of an “authentic blackness” to the Commencement ceremonies of predominantly White college and universities, one can only witness a comprehensive “authentic blackness” during Commencement ceremonies at HBCUs.
Just in case some of you ultra-professional and bourgeois people begin to develop the wrong impression about this article, you need to know that Commencement ceremonies at HBCUs are professional and they are respectful. You can be professional and respectful and show your great happiness and excitement for the graduates, especially for graduates you have come to see. Most graduates are not going to be offended if the members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. have one of their sorority sisters graduating and they yell out, “Skee-wee.” Members of Black Greek-lettered organizations are going to vociferously express their excitement and happiness for members of their organizations who are graduating. Black fraternity and sorority members make a tremendous contribution to the experience of being at an HBCU Commencement ceremony. Additionally, they help to remind us that we are not attending a funeral and that this is a joyous occasion that we should be evincing some outward expressions of our elation for the graduates.
The family members, friends, and associates of the graduates also provide noteworthy entertainment at an HBCU Commencement ceremony. At every HBCU Commencement ceremony, family members, friends, and associates are going to go wild in their support for the people they have graduating. Throughout the graduation, even in traditionally quiet moments and/or before the ceremony can really get started well, people are going to cheer for the graduates, blurt out their “Alright now, I see you Rashaun,” “I see you Nupe,” “You better walk soror,” and they engage in other acts they have planned to do before they came to the ceremony or that they spontaneously organized.
Many HBCU graduates are not simply going to just walk across the stage and not give us a performance that demonstrates their great pride and excitement for this awesome moment and that exhibits the merriment this moment that honors their academic excellence and accomplishments triggers them to do. Many graduates also coordinate things they are going to do before and when they get on stage to receive their degrees. It’s the things that the graduates do that make HBCU Commencement ceremonies far different from what you witness at a predominantly White college or university’s Commencement ceremony.
If you ever question whether or not Black people are committed to academic excellence and have zeal for academic accomplishments, you should attend an HBCU Commencement ceremony. You will get to see Black people from all backgrounds enthusiastic about the academic accomplishments of their fellow Black people. If you have never attended an HBCU Commencement ceremony, you should attend one near your area. You will have an opportunity to witness the “call and response” tradition that is highly characteristic of Black culture. Don’t, therefore, try to marginalize Black Commencement ceremonies by what you experience at them without a proper understanding of Black culture.
One thing is for sure, you will have an outstanding experience at an HBCU Commencement ceremony. You won’t be bored.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison