William & Mary

W&M to host inaugural 'Ceremony of Roots' for Latinx graduates

  • Leading the way:
    Leading the way:  Jacqueline Valles '19 spearheaded the planning for the new event.  Courtesy photo
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Graduation season allows many students to take the time to celebrate their accomplishments, their stories and their beginnings as well as their futures.

This year, William & Mary will offer an opportunity for Latinx students — students who are of Latin American descent — to celebrate their heritage while they prepare to embark on their post-graduation journeys.

The university’s inaugural Commencement event specifically for Latinx students — Ceremonia Raíces, meaning “Ceremony of Roots” — will take place May 10 in ISC 1221 from 3:30 to 5 p.m., with a reception following in the atrium.

Jacqueline Valles ’19 spearheaded planning for the ceremony after speaking with friends from other colleges and universities who were participating in similar events during graduation.

“I said, ‘They get this. Why don’t we get it?’” she said. “That was when I first reached out to Andrea Harris (associate director of university events) in Advancement, and I was like, ‘Hey, is this a possibility? Could we do this?’”

That was in June of 2018. About one year later, Valles and nearly 50 other Latinx seniors will participate in the ceremony and receive green stoles with silver lettering saying “clase de,” or “class of,” and William & Mary.

"The Center for Student Diversity was ecstatic to hear from Latinx students their desire for a celebration," said CSD Director Kimberly Weatherly, adding that Latin American Student Union, Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler and the Office of Diversity & Inclusion also supported the effort.

"Ceremonia Raíces is designed to represent the achievements of Latinx students to their proud families, friends and the William & Mary community," said Weatherly. "Along with the ceremony honoring each student, there will be a guest speaker, videos from students to their families, short speeches by student honorees and recognitions. Each graduate will be donned by person(s) of their choice with a specially designed stole marking the end of their time here at William & Mary."

Picking the stole was no easy feat. Valles said finding a theme, a set of colors and symbols that are commonly shared among all Latinx people was nearly impossible.

“Even picking out what we’re going to eat for the reception was something that we really had to think about,” she said.

Within the United States, she said, Latinx people are often grouped unified under the single moniker, but outside of the nation, “You’re Salvadoran. You’re Honduran. You’re Peruvian. You’re Mexican,” Valles said. “Finding that unifying factor has been really difficult, and how you make the ceremony cultural was really difficult.”

Even deciding whether or not to hold the ceremony in Spanish was not easy.

“Although Spanish, the language, is a very important part of the culture, especially second- or third-generation Latinos struggle with whether or not they’re Latino enough (if they don’t speak Spanish),” Valles said.

In addition to the donning of the stoles, the food and the speeches offered at the event, a video made by the seniors will be shown during the ceremony which highlight their experiences as Latinx students at William & Mary.

“It’s a way to show that Latinos are welcomed here,” said Valles. “In every way, shape and form, we tried to make sure that it was inclusive.”

She said that the ceremony would be very meaningful for students who are first-generation college students, as well as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, although the event is meant to celebrate the accomplishments of Latinx students of all lived experiences.

Including Ceremonia Raíces with other ceremonies of diversity, including the Donning of the Kente and Lavender Graduation, will add to the celebrations of the roots students have when coming to William & Mary

“I told many people, ‘We might stumble a little bit. We might not have everything figured out, but it will lay the foundation,’” said Valles.