Intimate graduation ceremony draws families of Latino graduates

Excited chatter echoed through the hall as students, decked out in royal purple and gold caps and gowns, waited somewhat impatiently for their ceremony to start. The faint aroma of incense wafted from inside McKenna theater and the voices of excited family members and friends could be heard in the distance.

The 31st annual Noche de La Familia, a graduation ceremony hosted by La Raza Student Organization for all Latino students on campus, was held May 21 to add a cultural and personal touch to the graduation celebration.

As friends and family, including parents wearing carnations pinned to their clothes, filled the rows and seats of the theater, a picture slide show of the graduates played silently on the large screen that hung down on the stage. As each new graduate appeared on screen, cheers erupted from somewhere in the crowd. As the lights dimmed, a collective cheer, backed by honks of vuvuzelas and foghorns and the rattle of maracas, filled the theater.

“I feel, being Latina, we really value our families in celebrations like this,” said Claudia Pocasangre, 23, a creative writing graduate.

Pocasangre, who is of Guatamenteca descent, is the first in her family to graduate from college. And although the she had attended the larger commencement last year, the feeling of being personally recognized for her achievements was not there.

The event was open to all of the 850 Latino SF State students in the class of 2011 and a good number of them chose to participate in the celebration to not only take pride in their culture but to take pride in the spirit of family.

Noche de La Familia allows families to see their sons and daughters cross the stage and accept their diplomas and hear their names and degrees called out. The ceremony also allows family members who are not fluent in English to be a part of the celebration by providing the program in both English and Spanish.

“It’s more personal,” said Jorge Rojas, 22, a criminal justice graduate of Mexican descent.

This year, the keynote speaker was labor activist Dolores Huerta. Huerta is known for her activism within the Latino community including helping to organize and co-found the United Farm Workers Association with Cesar Chavez, a leader in the grassroots movement to unite all farm workers within the state of California.

A major figure in the Latino community, Huerta spoke to the graduates about the gloomy situation forecast for the economy and education, however demanded that the students and all Latinos “continue our activism, and not just give back to our communities but come back to our communities.”

Along with the keynote speech by Huerta, the ceremony also included words by District 9 Supervisor David Campos and a commencement address by student speaker Nayeli Ceja.

Ceja, a member of La Raza Student Organization graduating with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology, stressed the importance of the bonds that were established among the Class of 2011 during their journey to graduation and to not lose sight of their goals.

The celebration was also filled with cultural songs by Ye Ye Suarez and ballet folklorico performances by Ballet Folklorico Alma de Mexico.