When Gary Warner first started working at McMaster in 1967, he was the lone Black faculty member at the university.
On Monday, as he looked out at a buzzing concert hall packed with graduating Black students, their loved ones, Black faculty and staff, he was anything but alone.
An electric silence fell as Warner stepped to the podium to officially launch McMaster’s inaugural Black graduation — the start of what promises to be a long, rich tradition.
The celebration of Black excellence had pomp, circumstance, graduation gowns, tears … and live steelpan music.
It also had raw and relatable spoken-word poetry, pulsating bass beats, rich Kente stoles, a celebratory buffet of African cuisine and an official request to stop for a selfie to mark a moment in history.
Here are a few moments from a historic day.
Spearheaded by Faith Ogunkoya, Manager of the Black Student Success Centre and a tireless advocate for students, the event celebrated the resilience, tenacity, strength, community and hope of students, as well as their loved ones.
At one point, announcer May-Marie Duwai-Sowa invited graduands whose names hadn’t been called to step up to the mic, announce themselves and enjoy a well-earned moment in the spotlight. The crowd roared its approval for each of them, and the loudest cheers were for the final shy student who remained seated, but whose cheering squad hollered and hooted until she got up and crossed the stage.
“That’s how we’ve always done it,” a parent in the audience called out, to applause: No standing on ceremony, just working together to uplift one another.
The live steelpan music and DJ-ing was so infectious, it was almost hard to stop dancing long enough to take a selfie. But they managed!
It was a proud day not just for the students, but also for their families and loved ones who supported them on their journeys to the finish line.