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Cultural celebrations add a personal touch to commencement

Graduates jump for joy at the 2012 African-American Cultural Celebration. (USC Photo/Lillian Insalata)

In mid-May, the excited buzz of graduating students reverberates throughout the USC campus, and the university’s cultural centers celebrate the achievements of their graduates in highly personal ways.

Corliss Bennett-McBride, director for the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs (CBCSA), explained the purpose of these special ceremonies.

“It gives you that cultural intimacy,” she said. “There’s a personal aspect. Separate — no. It’s ‘in addition to.’ It’s geared toward that community. We can celebrate the way we would like to do it.”

The CBCSA will host the African-American Cultural Celebration (Black Grad) featuring African drummers, gospel singers, speeches from a valedictorian and salutatorian, and a spoken word performance by Nate Howard, who is graduating with a degree in communication.

Black Grad will take place on May 16 at 8:30 p.m. in Bovard Auditorium. Graduating students must register online by May 15, and participation is free. Tickets for guests may be purchased online or at the door for $10. For more information, visit

Similarly, Asian Pacific American Student Services (APASS) is co-sponsoring an evening with the Asian Pacific Alumni Association and the Asian Pacific American Student Assembly. Denzil Suite, associate vice president for Student Affairs, will give welcome remarks, followed by traditional Chinese dancing, speeches from students and a keynote address by Phil Yu, creator of the “Angry Asian Man” blog.

Mary Ho, director of APASS, called the evening “a celebration to honor students of Asian descent and an acknowledgement of their culture and heritage in this intimate graduate celebration.”

The event is scheduled for May 16 at 8:30 p.m. in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Ballroom. Participation is free, and graduating students and guests must register by May 15 at

On the same Thursday evening, El Centro Chicano will host a bilingual graduate celebration, which kicks off with a procession of graduating students at 8 p.m. Led by Aztec dancers, the procession will begin at El Centro Chicano (United University Church 300, 817 W. 34th St.) and culminates at Howard Jones Field, which the Aztec dancers bless as the ceremony begins. Every participating graduate has the opportunity to speak for 20 seconds about anything they like. Many thank mentors, family and friends for their continued love and support.

“It’s very inspirational; we have it very family-oriented,” said Billy Vela, director of El Centro Chicano. “It has all the elements of why graduation is special, and folks get to be recognized within their community.”

Guests of the celebration do not need to RSVP or purchase tickets. Guests should arrive at Howard Jones Field between 6 and 8 p.m.

Two other cultural celebrations previously took place on campus. On April 18 in the University Club, the Office of International Services had an end-of-year celebration, which included performances by USC Thornton School of Music students, USC Kazan Taiko drummers and Brazilian samba dancers. Anne Kaufman, an international student adviser, said the event not only celebrated graduating students’ achievements, but it also provided them with an opportunity to mingle cross-culturally.

A few weeks later on May 4, the LGBT Resource Center, in conjunction with the Lambda Alumni Association, put on the 19th annual Lavender Commencement Celebration in Argue Plaza. Student graduates received a certificate, goody bag and rainbow tassel, and Lambda awarded scholarships to distinguished graduates.

Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said that Lavender — along with all of the cultural graduation ceremonies — provides a personal, community-centered feeling for the graduating students.

“It’s to honor the graduates for all of their accomplishments but then also to acknowledge their identities,” he said. “It shows that the university valued their experience.”

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