The New York Times reports that Harvard had its first ever commencement for black graduates this year, because that's just how 2017 is working out so far. Apparently, the main Harvard commencement had a keynote speaker who also happened to be a college dropout (Harvard alum Mark Zuckerberg delivered the address). But a couple of days prior to Zuckerberg's speech, Harvard held its first commencement ever for black graduate students only. The keynote speaker, Duwain Pinder, spoke of how hard it was to be black at Harvard. “We have endured the constant questioning of our legitimacy and our capacity, and yet here we are."
Harvard's not alone:
This spring, tiny Emory and Henry College in Virginia held its first “Inclusion and Diversity Year-End Ceremonies.” The University of Delaware joined a growing list of colleges with “Lavender” graduations for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. At Columbia, students who were the first in their families to graduate from college attended the inaugural “First-Generation Graduation,” with inspirational speeches, a procession and the awarding of torch pins.
Harvard wants you to know that the "black commencement" was open to anyone who wanted to attend (The New York Times points out that virtually everyone was black, however.) Bhekinkosi Sibanda, who is a Zimbabwe Harvard student, expressed ambivalence about the whole thing. “In an attempt at inclusivity, we don’t want to end up introducing exclusivity,” he said. “You don’t want to end up where this black commencement overshadows the entire commencement of the school.”
Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute, echoed those sentiments. “It’s not easy being a student, being a student anywhere, but especially at a place like Harvard." But he went on to say that separate commencement ceremonies only “amplify” racial strife. “College is the place where we should be teaching and preaching the view that you’re an individual, and choose your associates to be based on other factors rather than skin color."
Then, he pointed out the obvious. “These kids went to Harvard, and they less than anyone in our society should worry about feeling welcome and finding comfort zones. They don’t need that.” Exactly. Obtaining a degree from Harvard -- and all of the rarefied air of Ivy League prestige that comes with it -- should preclude people from complaining about anyone else's privilege.
"Separate but equal" is not something we should strive to bring to modern times.
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