By Encarnacion Pyle
The Columbus Dispatch Sunday May 5, 2013 6:49 AM
Wearing colorful African stoles, nearly 110 Ohio State University students marched onto a stage at the Ohio Union yesterday to a hypnotic drumbeat to be personally recognized before today’s campuswide commencement.
“You have earned knowledge, experience and a degree that no one can take away from you,” Vice Provost Valerie Lee told the students participating in Ohio State’s Afrikan-American Farewell Celebration.
Created 21 years ago, the celebration honors the university’s nearly 4,000 black students — 73 percent of whom graduate within six years, outpacing the national average of 62 percent for highly selective schools.
A growing number of colleges are holding more-intimate graduation ceremonies before the larger affairs to recognize the accomplishments of their growing minority-student populations. Ohio State also has events for the school’s American Indian, Asian, Latino and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender graduates.
“Ohio State is such a large university that this gives them a way to feel like they are part of a smaller, special community,” said Larry Williamson, director of OSU’s Hale Cultural Center. “They also like to hear their names called out, which doesn’t happen at the big graduation at the Ohio Stadium.”
The ceremony paid homage to a number of African and African-American traditions.
Robert Bennett III relishes receiving his philosophy doctorate at Ohio State University’s Afrikan-American Farewell Celebration.
A man played a conga drum. The students wore stoles that were red, black, gold and green and made of kente cloth, the cloth of kings during the Ashanti Empire in the 17th century in what is now Ghana. And the audience rose and joined the OSU African American Voices Gospel Choir to sing a rousing rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, known as the African-American national anthem.
Having President Barack Obama, a two-term president who is black, speak at today’s graduation is part legacy, part history and part tradition, Lee told the students.
And like Obama, she said, the graduates owe gratitude to the African-American leaders who came before them.
“It is my hope for you that years from now when you look back at your time at Ohio State, you can say the words of an old gospel song, I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey,’ ” said Lee, who is also OSU’s chief diversity officer.
Kayla Swain, 21, of Atlanta, told her fellow graduates that they all knew what it was like to be “the only or one of just a few students” in class who were different from the majority.
But they all found support from one another and the larger university community to excel in class and life, she said, and are prepared for “what comes next” because of it.
“Life is not a flat line. It’s up and down,” said Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president for student life, who gave the keynote address. “And you want those ups and downs, because one of the things you have to learn is what gives you joy. And sometimes we learn that by experiencing some pain.”
The key to surviving, she said, is always getting back up.
More than 100 graduating students prepare to take a group photo at the 21st annual Afrikan-American Farewell Celebration. Alex Holt
Jordan Macon, 21, of Cincinnati, urged his fellow graduates to stay true to who they are and what they believe in.
“One day left to graduation. A testament of strength and will. Took a whole lotta tryin’ just to get up that hill,” he said to raucous applause.
“Now we go to the big leagues. To get our turn at bat. As long as we live, it’s you and me, babe, we ain’t holding nothing back.
“Just moving on up.”