Updated: May 17, 2019 at 7:42 p.m.
About 200 graduates involved with the Multicultural Student Services Center gathered in Lisner Auditorium to celebrate the 11th annual MSSC graduation ceremony Thursday.
Several graduating seniors representing various cultural communities delivered speeches or received awards for contributing to the advancement of minority groups on campus. Keynote speakers and administrators encouraged seniors to embrace their identities and build relationships between multicultural communities to help counteract injustice.
1. Learn from diversity
Helen Cannaday Saulny, the associate provost for diversity, equity and community engagement, said MSSC graduates’ exposure to other cultural backgrounds was an integral component of their educational experience.
“You have developed and learned from friendships, or from controversy, with people from different backgrounds and cultures,” she said.
She said graduates must collectively advocate for the rights of marginalized groups in their personal lives and careers, even when change is difficult to achieve.
“The work of change is constant,” she said. “The road may be long and it’s not always going to be easy, but you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world. Please seize it.”
2. Prolong shared humanity
Michael Tapscott, the director of the MSSC, urged graduates to apply their knowledge of other cultures they have gained through their involvement with the MSSC to become effective leaders within their communities once they leave GW.
“The cultural intelligence you have developed through your experiences has prepared you for success in leadership in the world outside of this bubble with vastly different values, ideologies and perspectives,” he said. “But guess what? You already have what it takes for that success.”
Tapscott asked the audience to participate in a Quaker tradition, asking audience members to rise, shake hands and exchange names and phrases like “I will remember you.” He said the tradition provides a “reminder of our shared humanity.”
“In many cultures, hand-holding is an expectation,” he said. “As uncomfortable as it can be, it’s a reminder that we’re all very much alike.”
3. Build bridges between communities
Victoria Lewis, the president of the Interfaith Council and a keynote speaker at the event, said conversations between different religious, racial and gender communities about controversial issues can be challenging but are necessary to create a more inclusive society.
“I’ll be honest with you – it’s hard and it’s uncomfortable,” she said. “But so are conversations on racial oppression, and privilege and sexuality and gender expression. Important work is hard.”
Lewis encouraged seniors to become “builders” that foster understanding between communities in their future careers.
“Whether you’re staying in D.C. or traveling the globe, whether you’re a lobbyist on K Street or you’re a barista on H Street, wherever you go or whoever you become, be a builder,” she said.
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This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Caroline Laguerre-Brown spoke during the ceremony. Helen Canada Saulny, the associate provost for diversity, equity and community engagement, addressed graduates during the event. We regret this error.