The 26th annual ALANA (African, Latinx, Asian and Native American) Celebration of Achievement, a pre-commencement ceremony honoring graduates who belong to ethnic minority groups, was hosted by the Intercultural and Diversity Center Thursday afternoon at the Center for the Arts. The event consisted of musical performances, vulnerable and motivational speeches, tears and prideful cheers that filled the theater. Exactly 598 students, ranging from undergraduate to doctoral students, celebrated their graduations.
UB President Satish Tripathi began his speech at the ceremony with a moment of silence in remembrance of the 10 lives lost in the recent mass shooting by a white supremacist in Buffalo’s predominantly black East Side neighborhood. The ALANA ceremony took place just five days after the shooting.
Avana Francis, a senior biomedical engineering student and president of the Caribbean Student Association, expressed her pride to be a black graduate and reflected on the death of her father in 2020 and the “unexplainable” and “unexpected pain” that followed.
“This was something that broke me and I still haven’t recovered,” Francis said. “It happened in the midst of the semester where I had no choice but to continue with my academics. Because with grief, the world doesn’t stop for you to feel relief. You have to feel it and learn how to live the next chapter of your life without that person. It never goes away but I use it as momentum to finish what he started. I encourage all of you that are experiencing grief to find the good in what they left behind and use that everyday in order to heal.”
The crowd encouraged Francis during her emotional speech, yelling, “You got it Avana” and “We love you” while applauding.
Josephine Nimarko, a senior public health major and president of the Black Student Union, also spoke at the ceremony. She acknowledged her journey to finding her identity, the challenges that she has endured and expressed her thanks for the people and organizations at UB that have helped her. She also encouraged ALANA graduates to be courageous in their lives ahead.
“I may not know your life stories or your journeys through UB, but I know working towards this moment has not been easy,” Nimarko said. “The passion, the resistance, the integrity, the courage that you all possess is something that can never be taken from you… The world ahead will test us, and it will definitely try to undermine us. It will try to convince us that we don’t belong and, like in college, we might sometimes want to give up. Sometimes we want to question if we are on the right path, but in those moments I urge you all to take a step back and like my father always says, ‘Remember who you are.’”
Both the Latin American Student Association and the Filipino American Student Association performed at the ceremony. LASA danced to Bachata songs with several couples performing together on stage. FASA followed their act with Filipino tinikling dances to “Hey Ya!” by Outkast, “Everybody Talks” by Neon Trees and “Castle Hill” by Ed Sheeran.
Jamil Crews, founder and chief brand officer of Crews Control Media, digital communications manager for Say Yes Buffalo and board member of the Urban Buffalo League, served as the keynote speaker. Crews, a UB alumnus from the class of 2005, touched on his experiences as a first-generation college student, his advice for graduates and three qualities for graduates to keep “in mind”: faith, time and relationships.
“At the end of my sophomore year, I received a friendly letter from the Academic Support Center at UB that my one-point-something GPA, if not improved, would result in my dismissal from the school,” Crews said. “My GPA seriously looked like a blood alcohol level.”
The crowd laughed in response to Crews’ honesty.
“And to be clear, my low grades were not due in part to my academic abilities,” Crews continued. He pointed out that being the “man of the house” while being away from his family made his focus on college, “out of focus.”
“So a semester later it happened: not only was I dismissed, but an advisor gave me some advice and told me that maybe school wasn’t for me and that I should look to do something else. I explicitly remember this person telling me, ‘Maybe you should go downtown and find a job.’ Little did they know that post-undergrad, I would end up going downtown and finding a job working at the highest level of city government and would be considered one of the most influential people… under the age of 40 in Western New York.”
There were persistent waves of applause from the audience when graduates took the stage to be acknowledged. Graduates received a white flower after walking halfway through the stage.
“Even though there were students I had never seen before, I really connected to some of them with all the speeches,” Shochi Eunus, a senior biological sciences major who was celebrated at ALANA, said. “All my friends have different graduations, so it was nice to come together and celebrate together.”
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