University of Toronto to hold first Black Graduation celebration

About 70 students are expected to attend Canada’s first Black Graduation celebration at the University of Toronto next week.

The  event will be held at Hart House  on the St. George campus on June 22, the final day  of convocation at the University of Toronto. Graduates will already have received their parchments at one of the 27 ceremonies at Convocation Hall.

The celebration will  which is open to students from the Mississauga, St. George and Scarborough campuses  of the university . includes speakers from the Black academic community, awards presentations, a DJ and artists who will perform live painting during the event.

Jessica Kirk who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and entering a master’s program in social justice education at  the Ontario Institute for Studies In Education (OISE) this fall, co-organized the Black Graduation celebration with fellow Scarborough student Nasma Ahmed, who conceived the idea.

Anthony Briggs, who identifies himself as Black Caribbean (Grenadian), is graduating with his PhD this year. Briggs says he plans to attend Black Graduation. For him, it’s about making people aware of the presence of Black students at the university.

Organizers of the event note that for decades, Black Graduation ceremonies have been a tradition at United States universities. Harvard University held its first Black Graduation this year

Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke, who is a professor of Canadian literature at University of Toronto, sent a personal message to the Black graduates.

He said that “as an African-Canadian faculty member from historic Africadia (African-Nova Scotia), a descendant of slaves and those who fled slavery and struggled against it, and as a son of working-class parents in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I think I may guess at – and not be incorrect – about some of the challenges that some of you have faced, and the obstacles you have overcome, to be where you are at today. I congratulate you on your historic achievement.”

Keynote speakers are Huda Hassan, a Women and Gender Studies Institute PhD student and Akua Benjamin, , a professor at Ryerson University School of Social Work and co-founder of the Anti-Black Racism Network.

Awards for community leadership, excellence in research, liberal arts and athletic achievements will be presented to Black graduates.