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Identity graduations celebrate first-generation students and diverse communities

Jordan Simms and Shayana Dekrines at the MCC Graduation Celebration at WIU.
Jaycie Doerr
Jordan Simms and Shayana Dekrines at the MCC Graduation Celebration at WIU.

Graduation season is here, and there is more happening on campuses than just the official ceremonies.

At Knox College and Western Illinois University, smaller ceremonies are being held to honor specific members of the graduating class.

‘A really good marker for them’

At Knox College, a First-Generation Reception is held the day before graduation for those who are first in their family to graduate from an institution of higher education.

This is Knox’s ninth year of hosting the event.

“It’s so interesting because you’ll have students from all over the country, and even because Knox has a high international population, even all over the world,” Laura Bush, Knox College Academic Coordinator, said.

“It’s just a really good marker for them.”

Bush and her team partnered with an artist in Knox’s communications department to design a pin to give first generation students at the ceremony to wear that night and the next day at graduation.

“We’ve had faculty that are first-gen ask for the pin, we’ve had other alumni ask for the pin, it is kind of a way to recognize that identity and celebrate that too,” Bush said.

A more intimate celebration

Western Illinois University’s Multicultural Center also hosts an identity graduation the week prior to the university-wide graduation.

The Multicultural Graduation brings together students from the three organizations hosted within the MCC: the Casa Latina Cultural Center, the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center and the LGBTQA Resource Center.

This is just the second year the MCC has held an identity graduation,

Katy Valentin, Director of the Multicultural Center, said 150 students signed up to be recognized at this year’s ceremony.

“One of the most important reasons that doing identity cultural graduation celebration is because historically, these are groups that maybe weren’t always recognized in higher ed or maybe they weren’t welcomed in higher ed,” Valentin said.

She said this ceremony is more intimate that the main graduation. A slide show of students is made to highlight their degree, any award they receive, and their future plans.

Valentin hopes the ceremony keeps growing as it becomes a yearly tradition at WIU.

‘It is very important’

Jordan Simms, a Black student graduating with a double major in Broadcasting & Journalism and Communications, was honored at the ceremony.

“Honestly a lot of black minority students are first generation students, so having that extra ceremony that they can recognize that you are a minority and that you are at this space in your life that you may be the first in your family to do,” Simms said.

“It is very important.”

Michelle Narvaez is a Latina student, also double majoring but with specialties in Graphic Design and Foreign Language and Culture.

She said events at the MCC are important for bringing together cultural groups and helping minorities feel at home on campus.

Narvaez said that identity graduation is especially important for females in the Latinx community because they are outnumbered by their male counterparts in higher education.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.