3 Facts I Learned About Harvard’s Black Graduation Ceremony

The ceremony shows unity, community

(Image: tumblr/itooamharvard)

When I first heard about the black graduation ceremony at Harvard, I was opposed to the idea. Why are the students segregating themselves? Why can’t they join the rest of the students in the regular graduation?

But I thought I would check with my cousin Barry, who graduated from Harvard many years ago. To my surprise, he was all for it.

“If it is in addition to the traditional graduation ceremony, in the way that each house has an additional ceremony, I think it would be fine,” he told me in an e-mail.

I was glad I had checked with him, because that was the first thing I learned:

  • The black Harvard graduates aren’t segregating themselves any more than any house that holds a separate ceremony is.

Through Barry’s daughter, Adrienne, I met another Harvard alum, Kristen Jones Miller, over e-mail, who shared her thoughts. (Jones Miller owns the business Mented with another Harvard alum, Amanda Johnson.)

Black Enterprise: Are you for or against the all-black Harvard graduation ceremony, and why?

Kristen Jones Miller: I love the idea of an all-black graduation ceremony. I graduated from Harvard College in 2008, and the “Black Grad” ceremony was actually a staple in the undergrad community—in fact, I was the black grad speaker. I love the [current] effort to make it school-wide because I remember feeling that this ceremony gave me, my family, and friends an even more intimate and community-based setting to celebrate this huge achievement.

That was the second point I learned:

  • Such black graduation ceremonies have been part of the graduation experience for many years at Harvard. What’s different this year is the attempt to make it school-wide.

BE: What did participating in the black graduation ceremony mean to you?

KJ: If there had been a cross-school black graduation I would have happily participated in that as well. Ultimately these events aren’t about excluding anyone—they’re about taking another moment to celebrate an amazing accomplishment with a community of people you’ve grown close to.

BE: Should these students have attended an all-black college if they wanted an all-black graduation ceremony?

KJ: No, I think this sentiment is somewhat silly. The black grad ceremony doesn’t replace the university-wide ceremony—it’s a bonus, akin to the house-specific ceremonies that are done at the undergraduate level.

Which brings us to the third fact I learned:

  • The black graduation at Harvard does not replace the university-wide ceremony, as I had erroneously thought.

What do you think? And, have your opinions changed now that you know the facts?