Graduation season is always one of my favorite seasons each year. It warms my heart to see little ones on the subway in their cap and gowns or teenagers with their families holding balloons and releasing their too cool glares for wide smiles as they are surrounded by loved ones. I am partial to college graduations as a university professor, largely because I know firsthand (and up close) the sheer amount of hard work and dedication it takes to obtain a college degree. I also know how much money and sacrifice go into obtaining a higher degree. Therefore, whenever I see students in their regalia, I beam with pride and gratitude.
Graduations were always a time to celebrate in my family. I come from a long line of educators on my paternal side and my father always told me, “Your education is one thing we can give you that no one can ever take away.” I love seeing families and friends gather to cheer on and encourage a young student on their graduation day. For so many Black families, watching their graduate walk across the stage brings a flood of emotions––thinking about the ancestors who took jobs they hated to make sure the next generation would have a better opportunity, reflecting on the money spent to make sure the graduate had the resources they needed for books and activities, and all of the family members who contributed in a myriad of ways to assist the family.
Watching someone walk across that stage really is a time for the entire village to celebrate not just the accomplishment of the graduate, but the accomplishments of the entire family who helped make it happen, no matter how large or small.
For this year’s graduates, we know the past academic year has been incredibly challenging. Many students spent a portion of the year online and away from their friends and classmates. Many parents had to moonlight as teachers and tutors to make sure their loved one graduated on time. Teachers had to balance their own personal challenges and trials to help usher through this year’s graduates with the tools and skills they will need for the next chapter in their academic journeys.
This year I hope we reflect on the collective work of so many families to make graduation a reality. When we see those beaming students in their caps and gowns, I hope we all celebrate making it through another academic year. I hope we remember the ancestors who looked out for us (and continue to do so). And I hope we all recommit ourselves to making sure we support the next generation of scholars, learners, dreamers and thinkers. So, congratulations to all of the graduates and their families.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and also the What’s in It for Us podcast.