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Affinity group ceremonies honor diverse student identities and celebrate community
group photo on steps

The Modupe Dayo ceremony on May 6 was one of several programs held in conjunction with Commencement activities to honor and celebrate community.

— American Technologies

As part of Emory University’s 2023 Commencement festivities, Campus Life hosted ceremonies for seven Belonging and Community Justice (BCJ) affinity groups, celebrating community and honoring the graduates’ accomplishments.

“From day one at Emory, we want all students to know they have community. It is vital for our students to feel supported and see mirrors in our staff, faculty and among their peers,” said Kristina K. Bethea Odejimi, incoming dean of students and associate vice president for belonging, engagement and community.

“To know you are not alone is incredibly impactful and provides reassurance as you move forward. Celebrating graduation milestones is another way we are building a continuum between students and an alumni experience,” Odejimi said. “A whole network of support and connection is available to students beyond graduation.”  

Graduates in each ceremony were encouraged to walk across the stage with someone who has been a support for them, such as a parent, partner, friend or faculty member. That person carried the stole, which students would wear again at graduation, and placed it across the graduate’s shoulders.

Each ceremony included a keynote address from a faculty or staff member as well as messages of encouragement from Emory alumni with shared identities and was followed by a reception. Families and friends were encouraged to help cheer and commend this achievement, which centers identity-based communities celebrating one another.

Belonging and Community Justice helps students find the place they belong and supports them in making change in their communities. The groups comprising BCJ — the Center for Women, the Office of LGBT Life and Office for Racial and Cultural Engagement (RACE) — work together to create opportunities for students to learn, engage and find community as it relates to race, gender, sexuality and more. These three areas share one goal: to support students in their exploration of all of their identities.

As Jane Yang, licensed psychologist, associate director of outreach, adjunct clinical associate professor of psychology and keynote speaker at the APIDA Graduation Ceremony, said, “As I look out at all of you today, I see a room full of possibility. Some of you know exactly ‘what’s next.’ Some of you don’t and that’s okay… As you move forward, be sure to surround yourself with people who are committed to your success. As you go to new places, figure out who those people are and cultivate those relationships.

“But for today, for this moment,” Yang continued, “I hope you will all take a moment to celebrate and enjoy your accomplishment, which is not only individual but also the accomplishment of all those who have loved and supported you. Happy graduation.”

Graduating Women of Promise

Held on March 29, this ceremony honored graduating women who have demonstrated leadership, inclusivity and a commitment to making Emory a better place for all. Fifty recipients participated in the 2023 recognition ceremony in celebration of their achievements and successes as women graduates of Emory.

Lavender Graduation

The Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life seeks to engage the university community in the creation of an affirming and just campus environment while supporting the development of students of all gender and sexual identities. Held March 30 in conjunction with the Pride Awards, the annual Lavender Graduation ceremony honored LGBTQIA+ students and acknowledged their achievements and contributions to the university.

Celebration of Native American and Indigenous Graduates

This ceremony, held on May 3 by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI) committee, honored graduating group members who seek to make Indigeneity part of the way Emory does things, in every respect.

“The NAISI committee was honored to host the Celebration of Native and Indigenous Graduates,” said Beth Michel, senior associate dean of admission. “While our Native American community on campus is still growing, we are proud of Iliyah and Sierra and they are deserving of this event. I’m inspired by their peers from the Native American Student Association as their advocacy and vision sparked the planning.”

Modupe Dayo

An African-themed graduation ceremony celebrating the achievements of Black graduates, the Modupe Dayo ceremony pays tribute to African ancestors and heritage.

Myles Dunn reflected on his time at Emory during the May 6 ceremony. “Coming to Emory was very daunting for me as someone who attended all African American elementary, middle and high schools. It was the first time I was surrounded by such a diverse student body with varying experiences from mine, and as a Black man, I often questioned if Emory was the right place for me,” he said. “However, being a part of the Black Men’s Initiative and finding similar spaces where I could connect with other Black students made my experience much more meaningful and impactful as we navigated our Emory journeys together.

“Throughout my four years at Emory, I grew and made fond memories with my fellow Black peers, and to walk across the stage with them during Modupe Dayo was a full circle moment for me,” Dunn added. “The friends I walked into Emory with were the same friends I was leaving with.”

Celebrating Accomplishments and Recognizing Academic Success (CARAS)

The CARAS ceremony, held on May 6, honored graduating members of the Latinx community at Emory. The event was hosted in both English and Spanish.

“I really enjoyed the graduation ceremony because it was an intimate way to celebrate graduation with the same community that supported me and uplifted me during my college journey,” said attendee Alvaro Alvarez. “It also made me feel more connected to my roots and allowed a space to honor them as I end this chapter and move on to the next.”

First-Generation, Low-Income Ceremony (FLI)

The FLI ceremony on May 6 celebrated the resilience, integrity, scholarship and empowerment of students who are among the first generation of college graduates in their families. Through on-campus events and programs, these students formed a community and experienced many firsts together.

Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American (APIDA) graduation ceremony

Held on May 7, this ceremony honored Emory’s Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American community as well as the achievements of graduating students. The third-annual celebration, this ceremony also acknowledged the support system of the students, including family, friends, advisors, faculty and staff.

Photos by Emory Photo/Video, American Technologies and Parker Smith Photo.

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