McMaster College holds its first ever Black commencement celebration

When strolling by means of the halls and grounds and school rooms at McMaster College in Hamilton, Ashley Assam says, “simply by being on campus, you do not see a whole lot of Black individuals.” 

That is one of many causes individuals there organized, on Monday June 13, the varsity’s first ever Black commencement ceremony.

“What it meant to me was simply the truth that I felt like myself and a whole lot of different Black college students who’re actually small in numbers sadly have been going to be seen and celebrated,” mentioned Assam, co-president of the Black Scholar Affiliation and new graduate of the Bachelor of Well being Sciences program.

“To me, I felt like Black college students have been going to be seen, going to be heard,” she mentioned. 

“I felt just like the Black commencement was additionally a celebration of all of the work that has been completed throughout the previous 12 months and a half,” latest graduate Ashley Assam mentioned. (Submitted by Ashley Assam)

Religion Ogunkoya, supervisor of the college’s Black Scholar Success Centre, organized the ceremony. 

“It was vital for me to deliver the entire neighborhood collectively and to say, ‘go searching, that is your ecosystem of Black scholar success,'” she mentioned. 

The Black commencement ceremony was along with the varsity’s convocation ceremony and included college students, college and neighborhood members to have a good time the excellence of Black McMaster graduates.

Historical past within the making 

Ogunkoya hoped that college students felt impressed by the help system that congregated at Monday’s ceremony.

“It was very a lot about mitigating that social isolation that occurs whenever you really feel — in a predominately white establishment — you are outnumbered, it is good so that you can go searching and see your self,” she mentioned. 

Ogunkoya mentioned it took 4 weeks of exhausting work to deliver the ceremony collectively. 

Religion Ogunkoya, supervisor of the Black Scholar Success Heart, is seen talking at McMaster College’s Black commencement ceremony. (Submitted by McMaster College)

“What was vital was to ensure I introduced collectively Black college members, Black employees members and the scholars themselves,” she mentioned. “I additionally made certain alumni voice was there.” 

The ceremony additionally included Black-owned companies like Bliss Gelato and Afrolicious.

“The entire day was about celebrating and centering Blackness,” Ogunkoya mentioned. 

‘A very good change’

Again in 1967, Dr. Gary Warner, presently professor emeritus at McMaster College, was the one Black professor on campus.

His presence and function at this week’s ceremony was essential for him and college students concerned. 

Because the beadle, which is carried out by the oldest college member, he mentioned a couple of phrases earlier than declaring the graduation of the ceremony. 

Gary Warner was the one Black professor at McMaster in 1967. (Submitted by Religion Ogunkoya)

He additionally remarked on the steps that McMaster has made in the previous couple of years to advertise Black excellence and presence.

Warner mentioned he by no means believed {that a} Black commencement ceremony might happen, whilst of not too long ago. 

“Even 5 years in the past at McMaster, it was not one thing that I assumed would occur,” he mentioned. 

Whereas he described it as a “shifting expertise,” Warner mentioned that range on the college has been a gradual trip. 

It is solely been within the final couple of years that circumstances have taken a flip for the great — he believes the George Floyd protests of 2020 has “heightened consciousness.” 

However he mentioned different choices on campus have additionally been a driving drive of change: McMaster not too long ago employed an affiliate vice-president of fairness and cluster-hired 20 Black professors on the college. 

“That made a superb change,” he mentioned. “You’ve a considerable physique of individuals within the system alongside college.”

For extra tales in regards to the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success tales throughout the Black neighborhood — try Being Black in Canada, a CBC challenge Black Canadians may be pleased with. You may learn extra tales right here.


Hafidah Rosyid

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