On June 28 and 29, York University's Black Alumni Network (YUBAN) and Sexuality and Gender Advocacy Alumni Network (SAGA) held the inaugural Black and Rainbow graduation celebrations. Many alumni, family and friends came to campus to celebrate the resilience and achievements of the Black and 2SLGBTQIA+ graduates of the class of 2023.
Hosted by Fikayo Aderoju (BA ’22) and Reni Odetoyinbo (BBA ’18), the Black Grad Celebration was marked by inspirational words from Professor Carl James (BA ’78, MA ’80, PhD ’86), Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora, and a rousing performance of Lift Every Voice and Sing by York student Ayokunmi Oladesu, a member of Vanier College Productions.
“For many Black university students, Black graduation ceremonies are opportunities not only to reflect on their journey through university, but also to celebrate the fact that despite the odds, challenges, doubts, and setbacks, they want to celebrate how they managed to obtain their post-secondary credentials that once seemed elusive and unobtainable,” said Dr. James.
New graduate Kobe Cargill (BA ’23) also took to the stage, sharing his experience as a Black international student, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the achievements of Black graduates.
“I am the first in my family and in my high school to leave Jamaica and get a university degree. I am doing this first and foremost for my family and friends back home,” he shared. “York is a large university with an extensive alumni network, and as Black alumni, we are laying a foundation for those to follow.”
An evening of celebration and recognition was held the following day for the 2SLGBTQIA+ class of 2023. On behalf of SAGA, Sara Elhawash (BA ’15) hosted the event, welcoming recent grads and alumni, while acknowledging their accomplishments and challenges in getting where they are today. The event featured food, music and remarks delivered by Alice Pitt, Interim Vice-President Equity, People and Culture, and alumnus/current PhD student Gin Marshall (MES ’20) of SexGen, York’s committee responsible for advising and advocating around issues and concerns of sexual and gender diversity.
“I was truly honored to witness the power of unity and authenticity within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Having graduated in 2015 without a supportive network, it was heartwarming to celebrate alongside my fellow graduates who finally had the opportunity to embrace their true selves,” said Elhawash.
The evening provided an opportunity to network in a safe space and share words of encouragement and advice for future grads. Marshall spoke about his experiences as a queer-identifying university student and his challenges in the workforce. “We know the pendulum is swinging back towards more discrimination, and there is lots of work to be done. Recognize yourself, frame your degree and make sure it represents who you are. It is essential for you to recognize this accomplishment,” he said.
Along with YUBAN and SAGA, these two inaugural events were supported by the Division of Advancement, the Division of Students and the Office of the VP, Equity, People and Culture, and had participation from faculty and staff across the university.
Click here to learn more about York’s many alumni networks. If you are interested in joining either YUBAN or SAGA, please reach out to Evan Goldenthal, Alumni Engagement Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org.