Multicultural students and their families celebrated their cultures and time at GW in a commencement ceremony Thursday to kick off the week’s graduation events.
The Multicultural Student Services Center event featured student speakers, MSSC leadership and dance performances from student groups for the more than 300 people in the audience. Students representing Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, South Asian, Black, Latino and LGBTQ+ students and cultural organizations on campus said they made friends from different backgrounds and deepened their cultural roots to find community at GW over their four years.
“I want you to see that you reflect the full breadth and range of diversity of our student body,” Michael Tapscott, the director of the MSSC, said at the event. “If you’re present here today I’ll remind you of the progress many of you work toward by challenging the university’s reactions and responses to the issues that impacted the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Tapscott presented stoles to graduating students who were in attendance, before a dance performance by the Hawaii Club, National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council to wrap up the event.
Students who spoke throughout the event encouraged their graduate classmates to reflect on their time at GW to look at the community and experiences they found as they make their next steps and navigate life after college.
Mia Elane, a graduate and Asian and Pacific Islander community speaker, said she found community in Philippine Cultural Society and encouraged people to find “togetherness” because of its power to build community and push an individual’s limits.
“Having arrived here, which is a view from a predominantly white town, unsure of what future lies before me,” she said. “I am more than pleasantly surprised at the community of fellow Filipinos that welcomed me into their organization as an Asian American who has lived in the United States for almost the entirety of my life.”
Shariq Farooki, a graduate and the community speaker for the South Asian community, said he was proud of his community rebounding from the pandemic to host cultural events like GW Raas, a national dance competition at GW, or speaker events and concerts South Asian organizations hosted this year.
“Don’t be afraid to be validated because this space is ours,” Farooki said. “We will reclaim it. Our ability to create community with one another during a pandemic will allow us to navigate challenges with great boldness and confidence.”
Collin Cheng, a graduate and interfaith community speaker, said he was able to find community on campus through the faith-based groups on campus that brought him a sense of belonging while at GW.
“I felt like the jumbotron and the Smith Center of our freshman year, crashing into the floor,” he said. “I know y’all remember that. Just like the jumbotron, I found myself lifted up on the floor and eventually restored.”
Georgie Britcher, a graduate senior and the Native American community speaker, told the story of three sisters who could never get along, so they were turned into squash, corn and beans so that they could live in harmony supporting one another. She said the story relates to the community she found on campus through her bonding with people from different backgrounds.
“I didn’t understand the importance of community and the Three Sisters until I came here some of us should be grounded like beans but we need those who are centered by corn and supportive and tangling like squash,” Britcher said.
Keyla Ruiz, a graduate and the Latinx community speaker, said while graduating seniors reflected on their time at GW where they may have felt like dropping out, quitting or leaving organizations they persevered and should be proud of the progress they made to reach graduation.
“As you move on to your next journey, never forget how far you come,” she said. “As my mom always told me, I never want to hear you say that you can’t do something because you can. You are here today proving the statistics wrong and helping young people see that it can be accomplished.”
Khari Crooms, a graduate and the Black community speaker, read a poem that encouraged people to find the beauty in others after graduation as the graduating class enters the real world.
“Remember, you’re not defined by what you accomplished, but instead what you leave on this earth,” he said. “So let my words be a catalyst to your life’s calling and move from this day forward with all the intentions to serve.”