Excerpt: “You’re going to see a lot of diversity in the room,” Cassandra Fradera, A.L.M. ’17, co-president of the Harvard Latinx Student Alliance (HLSA), said on the phone last week. She was explaining what to expect on Tuesday at the third annual HLSA-sponsored Latinx Graduation honoring Latino and Latina graduates from across Harvard. “It’s not just students from all different parts of the University, undergraduate and graduate,” said Fradera, who served on the organizing committee, “but from different parts of the country, from Texas and California and New York and Puerto Rico”—from which her own family hails—“and Latin American countries and South America.” Some students with both Latino and African-American ancestry would also participate in Harvard’s Black Commencement earlier in the day. “So, a lot of different cultures,” Fradera continued. “Some people you’ll see are first-generation college students, or first-generation immigrants; there will be families with a mix of immigration statuses, a mix of socioeconomic statuses. For some students who have parents or aunts or uncles flying in, it might be the first time their family members have traveled out of the place where they’re from. And some people have family who can’t be there.”
Even so, the feeling in the basement of Northwest Labs Tuesday night—where 121 graduates and some 500 of their family members and friends settled in after an upstairs reception serenaded by the student-run band Mariachi Veritas de Harvard—was of overwhelming oneness. And joy. The College was the most heavily represented school, followed by the Graduate School of Education, the Kennedy School, and the Law School. One lone future dentist represented the School of Dental Medicine. As each graduate filed across the stage to receive a stole (“Clase del 2017”) and a hug from accompanying parents or siblings or spouses (or in one case, a very young daughter whose father knelt down where she could reach him), cheers and applause erupted. (“Filed” is not really the right word, either; the graduates danced and strutted across the stage, to walk-on music they had chosen themselves, like Major League hitters coming up to bat.)
“Partly this ceremony is about visibility,” Fradera had said. “It’s for us to be seen. Sometimes—a lot of times—we’re the only one like us in the classroom; that’s just the reality right now.” Latino students often must explain themselves and their culture to other students, she said; at the Latinx graduation, they could just be who they are and how they are, no explanation necessary.