Celebrating Students: Special interest convocations ceremonies honor grads’ Identities

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LAURA LATZKO • College Times

Graduating is a momentous occasion for students, but getting a chance to celebrate with others with similar backgrounds can make it even more special. ASU gives students this opportunity with special interest convocations for different groups, including international, LGBT, veteran, Asian, African American, American Indian and Hispanic students.

The ceremonies will take place between Saturday, May 4, and Friday, May 10, on ASU’s Tempe campus at various locations.

Along with these convocations and stole ceremonies, students often attend larger undergraduate or graduate commencement ceremonies and convocations for schools and colleges.

The special interest convocations are often more intimate, celebrate individual student accomplishments, feature student speakers, have special entertainment and have stole ceremonies.

Melissa Werner, director of the Office of University Protocol and Events, says that these ceremonies celebrate students as the multifaceted individuals they are.

“You have an identity as a student that goes beyond just student. We want those students to be able to celebrate that as well,” Werner says.

Many of the special interest ceremonies have outgrown their original venues and have had to be moved to larger spaces, such as Wells Fargo Arena or Grady Gammage Auditorium.

“We have a large population of first-generation graduates, so they have lots of family members who want to join them to celebrate their graduation,” Werner says. “This is a big milestone event. Graduation is one of those big life events that we want to make sure that our graduates and their families can all celebrate.”

The convocations have been around for different lengths of time. The Rainbow Convocation for LGBT students and allies and the Veterans Honors Stole Ceremony for active-duty military and veterans are two of the newest ceremonies. One of the longest-running ceremonies, the Hispanic Convocation, started 35 years ago. It has grown from around 25 students and to nearly 500 graduates and 8,400 guests.

Werner says this ceremony has special meaning for students and their families.

“We anticipate we’re going to have current students who are going to be participating this year who are children of our students who participated in that very first Hispanic Convocation,” Werner says.

Other ceremonies have expanded at an even more rapid pace.

The veterans stole ceremony has grown from 30 students five years ago to around 250 students and more than 1,400 guests.

Michelle Loposky, assistant director of outreach and engagement for the ASU Pat Tillman Veterans Center, says the ceremony is impactful for online and on-campus students.

“They are doing something that is tangible, that recognizes their military experience, their veteran identity and what they have accomplished serving the country and serving themselves by getting their college degree,” Loposky says.

The special ceremony is meant not just for the veterans but family members who have been part of their journeys.

“Most of these families made such sacrifices when that person was serving, and now they made sacrifices while the student attended school. So, this is a celebration of the success for the entire family,” Loposky says.

Prestigious leaders from different parts of Arizona take part in ceremonies such as the American Indian Convocation.

Each year, leaders from different tribal nations attend the convocation. Laura Gonzales-Macias, acting director for American Indian Student Support Services, says having tribal leaders there makes the ceremony more meaningful to the students.

“The reason they have chosen to take part in the American Indian Convocation is they have learned or strengthened their own sense of identity, and this is a way to share that with people they honor, including those tribal leaders,” Gonzales-Macias says.

The offices planning the special interest convocations, including American Indian Student Support Services, get to known students throughout their educational careers.

“We see them come in. We work with them. The charge is to retain them, graduate them, and this is the reward at the end,” Gonzales-Macias says.

In its 29th year, American Indian Convocation brings together students from urban and rural backgrounds and from tribal nations from all over the country. During the ceremony, tribal flags will be on display.

Students sometimes receive stoles designed for specific groups, such as Native American, LGBT, Hispanic, Asian, black or veterans.

The American Indian stoles are made from Pendleton material; African American stoles resemble kente cloth; international student stoles’ colors represent the global ASU experience and Hispanic stoles are like serape fabric.

Veteran stoles contain the branches of military in which the students served.

Students are encouraged to wear their stoles to other commencement or convocation ceremonies as a show of pride. Werner says many veterans, who are recognized during undergraduate and graduate commencement, don their stoles at later ceremonies.

A number of the ceremonies honor individual student accomplishments.

During the veterans stole ceremony, graduates are highlighted during a preshow slide show with their photos and information on their branch of service and majors. This information also appears on a big screen when they walk across the stage.

During American Indian Convocation, the Heard Museum will honor two exceptional students with Heard Museum Eagle Spirit awards, and the Native American Alumni Chapter will give out Dukepoo Awards to students with GPAs of 4.0 or higher.

Special interest convocations are geared toward the students and their friends and family members. This is why the Hispanic Convocation is in Spanish and English.

It is the special touches that make these ceremonies memorable for the students and families. The veterans stole ceremony, for example, is broken down by the different branches of the military.

Some ceremonies have special music or entertainment.

The veterans stole ceremony will feature service songs from the different branches of military; the international stole ceremony, group performances and musicians and the American Indian Convocation, live drummers, an invocation and benediction from Miss and Mr. Indian ASU and alumni performances.

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