With smiles and stoles, student-run event celebrates black U of T graduates

“Understand that your presence here, and what you have accomplished here, is monumental and that cannot be denied.”

The words of Adrian Williamspresident of the Black Student Association (BSA) at the University of Toronto, echoed in the Great Hall of Hart House, where dozens of black University of Toronto students who graduated earlier this spring recently came together to celebrate their accomplishments.

U of T students began hosting Black graduate celebrations in 2017 and over the years the events have taken place at the St. George and U of T campuses in Mississauga, as well as virtually during the pandemic.

The theme for this year’s student celebration was “Trials and Tribulations”. It was meant to highlight the challenges each student overcame to graduate — both as black students and as students navigating college during a pandemic.

The event itself marked a triumph over hardship as it was the first in-person celebration in two years due to COVID-19. “I think the most important thing about this whole ceremony is that it’s a really good example of overcoming adversity, which is what our community does all the time,” Williams said. U of T News.

“Post-secondary was never created with people of color — let alone black people — at all,” said Williams, who graduated this spring with a degree in linguistics, history and African studies as a fellow at St. Michael’s. Middle School. “I feel like the experience of black students in general is just unique, so I think it’s imperative that we highlight what we’ve done here.”

U of T News senior reporter and deputy editor Geoffrey Vendeville captured the following images from this year’s event:


(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

The students greet each other and chat in a room in Hart House before entering the Great Hall.

""

(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Ranie Ahmed, Marwa Al Waeal and D’Onna Alexander wait to participate in the black graduate student celebration.

When asked how she coped with difficulties over the past two years, Alexander (right), a student in psychology, sociology and women’s and gender studies at the U of T Scarborough, responded with one word: ‘Community’. She added, “I feel like I couldn’t have done it alone.”

""

(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Graduate Isaiah Kidane leaves the stage after being called for a moment of recognition.

""

(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Teacher Rhonda McEwenwho recently began her tenure as President and Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University at the University of Toronto, has dated every black graduate since the creation of the event at the U of T in 2017. “There’s something about seeing yourself in person and being around other people who may have had a similar experience to yours,” she said. “For students who have been in the minority, feeling in the majority – and feeling surrounded by people who have been through the same thing as you – is special.”

At the event, McEwen draped stoles around students’ necks with betty waltersProgram Advisor in the Department of Management at U of T Scarborough, and Marieme LoAssociate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and African Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

""

(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

The event, which students watched in person and online, included a keynote address from Francois Attaa social worker, motivational speaker and U of T alumnus, and performances by singers and U of T students Mulali Jewelry, Precious Umogbai and petra alfred.

(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Musa Hersi, nephew of graduate Ranie Ahmed, plays on a ramp outside Hart House.

""

(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Elvin Kaundawho obtained a bachelor’s degree in architecture, and Massoma Kisobwho majored in global health, chats in the quad Hart House.

""

(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

This was the sixth consecutive year that black students from all three university campuses had organized Black Graduation, a tradition that started in the United States and seems to have spread to other Canadian universities.

""

(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Carae Henry (second from left) graduated from U of T Mississauga with a degree in criminology, sociology, and gender studies.

Her family – brother Daniel, mom Carol and dad Peter – celebrated two more graduations this summer. Daniel finished high school and his mother, Carol Henry, earned her doctorate after earning an undergraduate degree at U of T in 1995. “It was wonderful to see,” Carol said of the event, “because when I got here, I felt a little out of place. It’s great to see that Carae has taken her place and that the university is celebrating black students.