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Harvard Students Organize Black Commencement Ceremony

The Ivy League school has never hosted a black graduation, until now. 

Harvard will hold its first ever university-wide black commencement ceremony later this month. The ceremony, celebrating the “unique struggles and achievements” of black grads, takes place two days before the general graduation, the Boston Globe reports.

The student organized, Black Commencement 2017, will be held on May 23 at Holmes Field, near the Harvard Law School campus. That same day, Harvard will host its third-annual graduation for students of Latino descent.

More than 170 grads are expected to attend the black graduation, along with over 500 invited guests. The event will include speeches from black alumni and administrators.

Graduates will don Kente cloth as they walk the stage, and Courtney Woods -- who will receive her master's degree from Harvard's Graduate School of Education -- can't wait for the special ceremony.

“I can only imagine how special I will feel when I walk across that stage and be able to honor my identity and my struggle at Harvard,” Woods said. “I know this is exactly what students like me need to be inspired as we leave this place as emerging global leaders. Your parents, your colleagues, and those who are there in the audience are there to celebrate you because they know your common struggle,” she pointed out. “There’s a shared history, there’s a shared struggle, there’s a shared identity.”

Holding a black graduation is seemingly more noteworthy given the school's roots in the slave trade. Aside from slaves being forced to live and work on the property, Harvard Law School was founded by money made from slavery.

However, the Ivy League university appears to be acknowledging its stained legacy. Last year, Harvard president Drew Faust teamed with civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, to unveil a plaque honoring four slaves owned by the school’s former presidents Benjamin Wadsworth and Edward Holyoke during the 18th century.

As for diversity, Harvard is slowly but surely widening the scope. In 2014, the school admitted its highest number of black students, which calculates to around 170 people (or 12 percent of total applicants) joining the class of 2018. In 2015, only 5 percent of Harvard's more than 8,000 graduates were black.


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