Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Cultural graduation ceremonies are still valuable

Schuyler Burke

When UT announced that they could no longer fund cultural graduation ceremonies due to Senate Bill 17, it seemed like yet another loss for the University community. However, with help from Texas Exes and immense student fundraising, the ceremonies were able to continue this past May. 

Cultural graduations are spaces for students to celebrate their accomplishments with loved ones in a way that reflects their cultural identities. They are a deeply cherished part of the student experience at UT that connects graduates to their heritage. The University is unable to hold these events and has been forced to cut their funding, so it is now up to students to support each other by ensuring cultural graduation ceremonies continue. 

The Black graduation ceremony included a rendition of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” an example of how these celebrations make culture a focal point. Zion James, a graduate student in the College of Education who helped organize Black Graduation, elaborates on the importance of preserving these events.

“Different communities celebrate (differently), and that’s okay,” James said. “There should be space and room for all to celebrate the way that they want to celebrate.”

Sen. Brandon Creighton, the Republican who originally filed Senate Bill 17, deemed DEI programs, which include cultural graduations, as “exclusive.” These ceremonies can be controversial. Some argue they are divisive and prevent students from a more unified celebration. However, these events are not limited to specific groups of students. Anyone is welcome to attend. Instead, they are an opportunity for students of different backgrounds to learn and appreciate each others’ traditions, fostering inclusivity in the University community. 

Luis Santos, special events co-chair for Latinx Community Affairs, the student-run organization that directed the Latinx graduation ceremony, said the ceremony was anything but exclusionary.

“(The ceremonies are) more about bringing up students than pushing people out,” Santos said.

The Latinx graduation ceremony was held in English and Spanish, which was profoundly impactful. It allowed students’ relatives to be present in the celebration and support their loved ones, which would not have been possible in a traditional graduation setting.

“We’ve had people testify that their grandparents were crying because this is the first ceremony they would actually be able to hear,” Santos said.

In the absence of the University’s financial support, Santos and other Latinx Community Affairs leaders worked with Texas Exes to secure financial support for the Latinx Grad ceremony. These methods ranged from GoFundMe pages to cold-calling cultural leaders across the state. The group raised over $8,000 for the event. Without the students’ efforts ensuring the ceremony could continue, this would not have been possible. 

“This is truly a student-led organization and student-led event,” Santos said. “Without the students, we wouldn’t be able to have it.”

Student leaders’ successes in continuing the ceremonies highlight the importance of the student body’s unified support for the cultural graduations because student fundraising made these events possible. Legal setbacks leave the University unable to support the cultural identity of its students, so the responsibility falls on students and the UT community to uplift these graduates. Through fundraising and promoting cultural graduation ceremonies, students can celebrate each other and preserve the traditions of fellow members of their community.

Saunders is a journalism and government sophomore from Wheaton, Illinois.

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About the Contributor
Schuyler Burke, Illustration Coordinator
Schuyler is an Arts and Entertainment Technologies Sophomore from Austin, Texas. Currently she works as an Illustration Coordinator for the Opinion Department at the Texan. She was previously an opinion Illustrator. Schuyler loves to create and read in her free time.