Every May, proud CSUN graduates make their grand entrance to their Black Graduation commencement ceremony to the powerful sounds of the African drums with African dancers leading them in.
Black Graduation is a cultural commencement ceremony that allows students of all backgrounds who identify with the African-American community an additional opportunity to celebrate the completion of a bachelors or masters degrees. This ceremony was introduced to CSUN in 1972.
“Black Graduation is a celebration of Black students who graduate, because historically speaking we were not allowed to graduate,” said Cherrie Phillips, 22, a senior psychology major and president of Black Graduation planning committee. “It is not about being segregated, but paying homage to those before us who fought for us to be here.”
Among graduates of this ceremony include CSUN alumna Taelor Cage who participated last year.
“When walking across the stage I felt accomplished, proud and happy,” she said. “I felt all these emotions because I knew my hard work paid off.”
Joshua Thompson, 22, a senior political science major, will be participating in the commencement ceremony in May.
“It’s very important because already the population of Black males and females are marginalized,” he said.
In 2012, CSUN Institutional Research reported that there are a total of 36,164 students at CSUN with 2,224 being African-American. Out of the 2,224 African-American students the research shows that only 474 African-Americans are degree recipients.
Phillips said about 200 students participate in Black Graduation each year. The majority of graduates are African-American, but not all are of this ethnic group.
Alumnus Ben Barron, a Caucasian and Mexican, participated in the cultural celebration last year.
“I participated because I wanted to go out with a bang, have an amazing time and move on to the next chapter of my life with my friends and classmates,” said Barron. “It wasn’t really a big deal that I wasn’t Black.”
As a Pan-African Studies minor, Barron had classmates and professors he had known for years, which is what the celebration was more about for him, he said.
During the ceremony, students receive awards.
Phillips said the Valedictorian Award is given to the student with the highest GPA, and all students receive the Black Family Specialist Award in addition to their certificate.
The ceremony also features keynote speakers.
Perosaiye Akinbohun, 21, senior business major and secretary of Black Graduation planning committee, said Anita DeFrantz, an attorney and winner of a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics, gave the commencement address last year.
This year the speaker this year is Isadore Hall, assembly member of 64th district.
Phillips said Black Graduation is funded by AS, USU and majority of funding is from outside sponsorship, fees paid by graduates, and fundraisers.
Akinbohun has been on the planning committee for three years and said she expects things to go great at this year’s ceremony.
“My highlight last year was seeing majority of my friends walk across the stage even though budget cuts affected them they made it through in four years,” she said.
Phillips also said the Black Graduation committee encourages other races to participate in the ceremony.
“It’s not about Black and White, just a cultural celebration about historical minorities,” she said. “Other cultures that are racially ostrasized, feel comfortable and identify with African culture are more than welcome to participate in Black Graduation.”
Interested students can pick up the application from Bayramian Hall 210. The application along with the $20 participation fee is due March 23 by 5 p.m.