EastBay Today

Posted June 6, 2017

In Honor of Diversity

Students reflect on taking part in the university’s annual cultural celebrations

Each year, Cal State East Bay honors its diverse graduates through four cultural ceremonies: Lavender Graduation, Black Graduation, Chicano/Latino Graduation and Asian Pacific Islander Graduation.

Cal State East Bay is frequently ranked the most diverse university in the continental United States, and as graduation nears, faculty and hundreds of students will once again celebrate with four cultural ceremonies that honor graduates from different backgrounds. The celebrations, similar in nature to the formality of commencement but more intimate, allow students to mark the milestone of graduation alongside a peer group they identify with.

“Cultural graduation celebrations … tend to be smaller and rich with cultural heritage, symbols and traditions,” Dr. Dianne Woods, university diversity officer says. “At these events, we honor the diversity of our students and celebrate their successful school career.”

This year’s celebrations start Tuesday and run through Thursday night. Each student will be presented with a sash that coordinates with their specific cultural celebration and that they can wear to their college’s commencement ceremony June 9-11.

Among this year’s cultural grads are:

Chris Aguirre, 27, Health Science, Lavender Grad

Chris Aguirre, who identifies as a Mexican-American queer male, says his work at Cal State East Bay with student leadership organizations like the Diversity and Inclusion Student Center and Peer Advocates for Wellness, were not just important for his academic career but helped him develop a positive sense of self. 

Aguirre’s accomplishments include playing an instrumental role in organizing the university’s annual queer conference and holding a workshop on campus about pre-exposure to prophylaxis, which eventually opened the door for him to attend last year’s National HIV PrEP Summit.

“I figured myself out on this campus.”

“I figured myself out on this campus,” Aguirre says. “Co-workers, the work I’ve been doing, being an ethnic studies minor, all helped me shape my own identity.”

He says the lavender ceremony is a chance to celebrate both his accomplishments and the support system he’s built over the last few years.

“It’s a great opportunity to build on the queer community and celebrate the intersectionality within the community,” he says. “I know that I am graduating in part because of the people who’ve helped me along the way — students, faculty, staff, friends and family.”

After graduation, Aguirre hopes to serve in the Peace Corps for two years before pursuing a Master of Public Health degree.

The Lavender Grad ceremony will be held June 6 at 6 p.m. in the University Union Multipurpose Room.

Tikerea Tate, 23, Criminal Justice/Sociology, Black Grad

Originally from Southern California, Tikerea Tate says wanting to move away from home was one of her initial incentives for attending Cal State East Bay. But, she was also impressed by the university’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion, which are things she’s looking forward to celebrating at this year’s black graduation ceremony.

“I love how it is a more intimate ceremony that displays so much black culture,” Tate says. “I am also participating because it makes me feel good to be in a room full of black people who just accomplished a huge success.”

Since starting here as a freshman, Tate says she’s enjoyed seeing the black student community at Cal State East Bay come closer together and work together to “be strong and productive.”

“The community is so much stronger than when I was a first year,” she says.

The Black Grad ceremony will be held June 7 at 7 p.m. in the Cal State East Bay Gymnasium (PE 145).

Alejandro D. Bautista Zugaide, 25, Business Administration, Latino Studies, Chicano/Latino Grad

The two major things that drew Alejandro Zugaide to Cal State East Bay were the location and the support for transfer students that the university offers through the GANAS program.

Like many students, Zugaide says he struggled financially during school, commuted almost daily and also held down a job. Fortunately, he had support at home, which he knows is not true for all first-generation students.

“I was constantly told by family, friends and community members that I could attend and graduate from any university,” Zugaide says. “[But] unfortunately, when students like myself attend a university, we are left to figure everything out on our own, which consumes a lot of time and [effort], resulting in many of us losing focus as our everyday problems compete with our studies.”

But GANAS offered Zugaide the support he needed, and mentors and other students stood by him “in the good and bad times.”

“My campus family has continuously pushed me to give it my all every day.”

“My campus family has continuously pushed me to give it my all every day,” Zugaide says.

One of the biggest reasons he’s attending one of this year’s cultural ceremonies is so his parents can understand the speakers and presenters.

“My parents have done so much for me to get to where I am today,” Zugaide says. “One of the few things I can do to repay their sacrifices is invite them to celebrate with me in a ceremony where Spanish will be spoken on a stage that will acknowledge our culture.”

Zugaide says one experience he’ll never forget from his time at Cal State East Bay is organizing the university’s first Undocumented Student Resource Summit.

“Given the political climate that we are in, this event not only gave hope to many students and families, but was very informative for the people who attended. I hope that Cal State East Bay commits to [continuing to help] undocumented students fulfill their dreams of achieving a higher education and show[ing] support for students like myself.”

The Chicano/Latino Grad ceremony will be held June 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the Cal State East Bay Gymnasium.

Kyle Navarro, 22, Nursing, Asian Pacific Islander Grad

Kyle Navarro, a Fremont native, chose Cal State East Bay because of its proximity to where he was living at the time of his entry, but since then, he says being a Pioneer has “opened up a lot of doors” he didn’t expect.

“One of the big things I learned [during] my time at East Bay was being able to recognize and say ‘yes’ to opportunities,” Navarro says.

One of those opportunities was serving as the California Nursing Student Association president, a role that requires he oversee the organization’s fiduciary spending and allows him to represent the state at a national level. In addition, Navarro helped create a peer mentorship program for nursing students, which he says was a big undertaking, but eventually became one of his biggest accomplishments at Cal State East Bay.

After graduating in June, Navarro will take the nursing boards and hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in the field.

“There are so many different layers that I love about the profession and my end goal is to teach nursing,” he says. “I love the feeling I get helping other people. I get to go out and reach out to children in underserved communities and introduce them to nursing.”

The Asian Pacific Islander Grad ceremony will be held June 8 at 6 p.m. in the New Union Multipurpose Room.