Courtesy of Ryan Arrendell

The largest group of participants to date gathered for the Yale Black Graduates’ Celebration at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, in Battell Chapel.

Started in 2000 and hosted by the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale, the Black Graduates’ Celebration is an annual tradition honoring graduating Black students. This year, participants came from all 14 undergraduate residential colleges and 12 of the graduate and professional schools. 

“The House is such an important part of many Yalies’ experience, particularly Black Yalies, and being able to celebrate graduation as a community is truly special,” Timeica Bethel ’11, director of the Af-Am House, wrote in an email to the News. 

Bethel participated in the Black Graduates’ Celebration when she graduated in 2011 and said that it was the “highlight of [her] commencement weekend.”

Each year, the celebration consists of a procession, invocation, alumni speeches and a cermony titled the Donning of the Kente. This year, it also included performances from WORD, the University’s oldest spoken word poetry group, and Shades of Yale, an a cappella group that sings music of the African diaspora and African-American tradition. 

The House also continued its tradition of presenting awards across several disciplines to departing graduate and undergraduate students during the ceremony. These awards honor students who have made significant contributions in the areas of research, leadership, service, athletics and artistic achievement. 

“I think the experience of most graduation events is often a little uncomfortable for a lot of our families, especially for people of color or students who come from low income backgrounds,” said AJ Hudson LAW ’23, who was honored with the Award for Outstanding Graduate Research in the African Diaspora during Saturday’s event. “The celebration today is an opportunity for my family to celebrate me authentically, with familiar cultural norms, in a way that feels safe, inclusive and rooted in our culture.”

The Black Graduates’ Celebration is not held in place of the larger graduate and undergraduate ceremonies, but rather, in addition to them. 

Because this celebration is rooted in the Af-Am House’s community, many students feel a strong connection to it.

“Black students at Yale have always struggled to a certain extent to be accepted, to be taken seriously, and to adjust to an unfamiliar world,” Hudson said. “Black graduation is a moment where we can celebrate each other, our struggles and our triumphs, without hesitation or restraint.”

Ryan Lindsay Arrendell DIV ’23, president of the Yale Black Seminarians, echoed Hudson’s sentiment, adding special appreciation to Bethel for making consistent efforts to include Black students from the graduate and professional schools in The House’s community.

Arrendell, who attended the celebration, explained that seeing and hearing about the work of her Black classmates was inspiring.

“It is just an incredible occasion to celebrate the beauty, the excellence, the awesomeness that is Blackness in all its forms,” Arrendell said. “Black people have always enriched Yale, whether it was one of us, 10, 20 or hundreds. We have made Yale a better place, and that is undeniable.”

Yale opened the Afro-American Cultural Center in 1968, the same year it founded the Department of African-American Studies.