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As the class of 2022 prepares to graduate this weekend, students reflected on the past four years of their lives and how they grew — academically, personally and emotionally. Syracuse University hosted four events this past weekend to send off graduating seniors, commend their achievements and celebrate the identities they forged along the way.
Indigenous Graduation Celebration
A traditional Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving blessing, “words that come before all else,” began the Indigenous Graduation Celebration on May 7. Translated into English, the blessing reflected key pillars of Indigenous culture: gratitude and humility.
The event highlighted the Indigenous community at SU. The Native Student Program honored 17 graduating seniors, 15 undergraduates and two graduate students, hailing from seven different Indigenous tribes and seven clans.
Maya Swamp, the program’s valedictorian, spoke about the unique challenges of being Indigenous and pursuing a college degree.
Swamp was worried about feeling like an imposter and feared losing touch with her native culture. But as she navigated college, she said that the Native Student Program both affirmed her cultural identity and empowered her to use it for a higher purpose.
“In the creation story, it is said that we are sent to Earth with certain gifts and duties, thrown into our lives to better those around us,” Swamp said. “I found that we were able to use our similarities and differences, our gifts, to complement each other and to create a sense of family and community, connected with each other through an incredible program.”
As the graduating students walked across the stage, they were recognized by name and degree, along with their tribe and clan. Each was presented with a traditional Haudenosaunee stole and given the choice between two books written by Indigenous authors.
Regina Jones, assistant director of the Native Student Program, emphasized that a college degree represents a great deal more than academic achievement for Indigenous students.
“Many of our students were always told they’d never go to college,” she said. “Pick up a trade, go to work, those are their usual options. The 17 students we are graduating today defied those expectations… Today we celebrate them, their bravery and perseverance.”
Blessing of Students
As seniors prepare to leave campus and their friends, they are also leaving the institutions that offered respite during their stressful college careers. For many seniors, that respite is often found in Hendricks Chapel.
Eighty-five students were recognized in the Blessing of Students ceremony that combined music, prayer and congratulations for all the seniors that will be leaving the university and the Hendricks community.
After Abigail Wood, an SU sophomore, played the organ to welcome students and supporters, Reverend Brian Konkol, the Dean of Hendricks Chapel, spoke proudly of graduating students who worked at the chapel.
“This is a wonderful day, because we have wonderful students,” Konkol said.
Reverend Gerry Waterman, the Catholic chaplain, offered a prayer for seniors, emphasizing their friendship and goals for the future. The prayer then asked for peace within the SU administration and wished well to the family, friends and supporters of the graduating class.
Following Waterman, JoAnn Cooke, the Buddist Chaplain, led the congregation in a guided meditation, asking everyone to imagine an ocean as a metaphor for the possibilities that lay ahead. The Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Sarah Noyovitz, followed Cooke and sang “Tefilat HaDerech,” or “Traveler’s Prayer.”
Gail Riina, the Lutheran chaplain, emphasized the power of important friendships as graduates begin the next chapter of their lives. Imam Amir Duric, the Muslim Chaplain, gave a poetic, powerful speech to students and asked God to help them on their journeys ahead and bring light to their futures. Lastly, Baptist Chaplain Reverend Devon Bartholomew spoke about two passages from the Bible, 2 Timothy 1:7 and Proverbs 4.
Graduating students were honored with awards as Konkol presented each recipient with a certificate. Each graduate also received a flower from the chapel to represent their time there. Konkol concluded the ceremony with a prayer for the seniors.
“May you have determination to be loyal, the conviction to embody your beliefs, the grit to set and meet your goals, and the resilience to be you,” Konkol said. “May God bless you all, from the spiritual heart of campus to yours, today and always.”
LGBTQ+ students at Syracuse University were honored at this year’s Lavender Graduation, which was the fourth annual event of its kind at SU. The ceremony honored 26 undergraduates, four master’s students and one doctoral student graduate from the class of 2022. To celebrate their graduation, the event included a spoken word performance, speeches of encouragement from SU staff members and an alumni guest speaker.
Jorge Castillo, the director of the LGBTQ Resource Center, kicked off the event with a short explanation of why Lavender Graduation is so significant. Originally an event that began at the University of Michigan in 1995, Lavender Graduations have spread nationally and now occur at almost 250 universities, Castillo said.
“In addition to the immense accomplishment of completing your degree requirements, some of you might have experienced difficulties expressing your gender identities or sexualities,” Callisto said. “So this ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate as your authentic self, and be surrounded by your queer family.”
To further illustrate the importance of the color lavender in the LGBTQ+ community and commend the graduates, Eboni Britt spoke following Castillo, using a clip from the film “The Devil Wears Prada” to guide her speech. Britt, who is the executive director of strategic communications and initiatives at the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, used the film excerpt to touch on the power a single color can have — in the ceremony’s case, lavender.
In doing so, Britt traced the significance of the color lavender through queer history, from originally serving as a color to out queer people to empowering activists at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The fact that queer students made it to their graduation, Britt said, is a sign of the historic unity and power of the LGBTQ+ community.
“For decades, starting in the early 1900s, the color lavender was used as a way to stigmatize and discriminate against people for suspicions about their sexuality. But, as is typical of those who are oppressed and marginalized, we take the same things people use to demean and belittle us, and we claim ownership of them,” Britt said. “We make those same things our own. We take the ugly and make it beautiful.”
Class of 2022 Launch Party
A scene of SU’s trademark orange and blue, Goldstein Auditorium bubbled with both nostalgia and excitement from graduating seniors. Organized by the Forever Orange Alumni council, the Class of 2022 Launch Party on May 6 marked the end of students’ undergraduate journey, but more importantly, the beginning of a brand new chapter of their lives.
While the celebration was one of remembrance, with special cords given for students to wear at graduation and a photobooth, it also set students up for post-college plans through professional headshots and networking opportunities with successful alumni.
Behind each student was a story of how SU became a place to learn and grow. One graduating senior, Anna Wojcik, looked back on the work she did with her capstone group in her environmental engineering major and how it gave her applicable, real-world experience heading into the workforce. Jessica McGowan, who will receive a degree in civil engineering this weekend, looked back on all the fun moments she had with new friends at Orange After Dark events, and how they helped her acclimate to campus.
But Morgan Eaton, who will receive a degree in citizenship and civic engagement and policy studies, said his biggest takeaway from SU is the relationships he built along the way.
“Everything’s fun when you do it with friends,” Eaton said. “The best part of SU is the people.”
A series of toasts, including a speech by Konkol to graduates about reflecting on and learning from their experiences at SU, ended with the Class Marshalls, Ava Brietbeck and Morgan Storino, as they reminded their peers to make the most out of their last days in Syracuse.
To end the celebration, in true SU fashion, Otto the Orange burst into the crowd to give high fives.
Published on May 12, 2022 at 12:50 am