Black Grad Magic: Historic celebration launches a rich tradition

June 15, 2022
Pomp, circumstance, tears, gowns — and live steelpan music. Welcome to McMaster’s inaugural Black Graduation Celebration. (All photos by Georgia Kirkos, McMaster University)

Black Graduation Celebration 2022 from McMaster University (OFFICIAL) on Vimeo.

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.

The Black Grad 2022 celebration was open to graduating students who identify as Black from all faculties and departments at McMaster.
Gary Warner has long opened doors, supported and created opportunities for Black students, faculty and staff at McMaster. He co-founded the African-Caribbean Faculty Association at McMaster.
“I hope you feel seen. And I hope you know you belong.” — Faith Ogunkoya, Manager of the Black Student Success Centre and the driving force behind the inaugural Black Graduation celebration.

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.

Empower Her: Black Girl Magic Award recipient Ashley Assam brings some of that magic on to the stage. Assam, a 2022 BHSc grad, is also the president of the Black Student Association at McMaster.
While it was separate from the official academic convocation ceremonies, every student walked across the stage in a graduation gown.

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.

Every student had a Kente stole placed around their neck. These stoles were once reserved for royalty to mark a rite of passage, “and now they celebrate a regal tradition of Black excellence.”

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!

Getting hyped for a historic moment. The inaugural cohort of the Black Graduation at McMaster takes a moment for a selfie.
“Take out your phones and take a selfie now. I want you to take a picture to show you were here at this moment.” Speaker and author Marlice Simon, whose daughter was one of the graduands, made sure every student had a photo to remember where they were the first time McMaster held a Black Graduation celebration.
Activist Evelyn Myrie takes a selfie with (from left) Professor Alpha Abebe, BSSC manager and Black Graduation celebration organizer Faith Ogunkoya and Professor Selina Mudavanhu.
Cheikh Tchouambou Youmbi won the BSSC Legacy Award for a student athlete who has supported his peers and helped drive change at McMaster.

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.

BSA president and Black Girl Magic Award recipient Ashley Assam’s mother, Mercy, makes her blush, then cry.
Kinesiology grad Ejiroghene Rerri draped his stole over his mother’s shoulders. In an address to the students, Prof Bonny Ibhawoh reminded them that they stand on the shoulders of giants, and to look to their families and friends so they would always remember, recognize and honour the giants in their lives.
Kemi Adesina and her mother stopped hugging and dancing for a moment so we could take their picture. Congratulations!