Graduation is such an exciting and exhilarating time in a person’s life. It is the culmination of hard work and dedication. Oftentimes, the journey has been filled with intellectual discovery, new friendships, and a sense of confidence and accomplishment that is indescribable. Whether it’s a kindergarten graduation or a graduation from college or graduate program, there is nothing better than seeing the smiles of family members and hearing the cheers of elated friends and family as their loved one crosses the stage.
Unfortunately, this graduation season was filled with Zoom graduates, social distance drive-by toasts, or little or no acknowledgement at all. Some students did not get to experience putting on a cap and gown, and loving family members didn’t get to experience ironing the gown straight out of its packaging or planning the menu for the family gathering.
The reason why graduations are so important in the Black community is largely due to the obstacles (seen and unseen) faced by so many students at all levels of their education. Usually graduates recognize the sacrifices their family has made in order to make this special day possible. So many parents and siblings took extra jobs, babysat, saved, or went without in order for the graduate to make it across the stage and collect their degree.
As a child, the only times I saw my father tear up was at family graduations. I asked him once why he cried at the graduations of me, my sister, and my cousins, and he replied that he was filled with an overwhelming sense of pride in our family and all of the kids walking across the stage. We must remember that it was not too long ago that it was illegal for Black people in this country to learn how to read and write. Therefore, a graduation from first grade can be seen as monumental for some as a graduation from high school, college, or beyond.
My parents would often remind me that an education is one of the few things a parent can provide for a child that no one can take away once it is obtained. To think of all of the young people who had a milestone graduation or passed from one grade to the next, they should be acknowledged and celebrated. They are continuing a legacy of our ancestors and building upon a hard fought foundation.
I am extending a heartfelt congratulations to all graduates who made it to the other side of the mountain this year. I also want to congratulate those who are “stepping up” from one grade to the next. These accomplishments may not have been celebrated in large auditoriums and arenas this year, but know there is a community of people cheering you on and maybe even shedding a few tears of gratitude.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, political editor at The Grio, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.