Latinx students from colleges and universities around the state were honored at the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan's third-annual Statewide Hispanic/Latino College Graduation ceremony April 5.
About 100 Latinx students were honored, as the event has increased in attendance each year, according to the commission. An undeniable energy in the crowd was present as students were led to their seats.
Felipe Lopez Sustaita, executive director of the Hispanic/Latino Commission, begun the ceremony by congratulating the graduates on their accomplishments. She emphasized that graduation was only the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.
Sustaita recited the poem "The Invitation" by Oriah Mountain Dreamer to introduce the student speakers. MSU horticulture senior Jorge Lerma then gave a moving speech on how quickly his life was turned around through college attendance.
Lerma's speech focused on the work of the Hispanic/Latino Commission — specifically Sustaita — in helping Latinx students obtain their degrees.
As his speech ended, the students were told to rise and move toward the stage to be recognized. Latinx students from Michigan State University, Ferris State University, the University of Michigan and others across Michigan were recognized.
Associate, bachelor's and doctoral degrees were among the achievements attendees received or are soon to receive. The college graduates were given a certificate of achievement and a serape, or long blanket-like shawl, as a graduation stoll.
Sonya Hernandez, chair of the Hispanic/Latino Commission, expressed how important it is to honor and recognize the accomplishments of Latinx college graduates.
"With such a low number of Latino graduates from higher ed institutions — not just from Michigan but around the country — it's important for us to edify and celebrate when our people reach these milestones," Hernandez said. "There are so many barriers that are already in the way for us, and when we can see this many Latino students defying the odds, that is something worthy of celebration."
Just over one in five Latinx adults in the U.S have an associate degree or higher, but degree attainment has been on the rise, according to Excelencia in Education.
MSU chemistry senior Erik Anaya spoke about his time at MSU and his excitement to be graduating.
"I'm a first-generation college student and everyone else here is. It's pretty incredible what were doing here," Anaya said. "I'm the only Latino graduating in chemistry this year, and there's only six in the program throughout all four years. I gotta recognize, I'm doing is something new and hoping to keep pushing these barriers," he said.
Hernandez said she was proud of the graduates but also wants to see them achieve more as they continue on in life.
"It seriously makes my heart smile," Hernandez said. "It makes me feel hopeful for our future. ... My hope is that they will be inspired by what they know is happening around the state, and they then will be part of that positive statistic, not part of a negative statistic."
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