Diversity Graduation recognizes students, families of underrepresented populations
University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Office of Student Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosted the fourth annual Diversity Graduation on May 11, inviting multicultural, LGBTQ+, veteran, and first-generation college students to be highlighted in a celebration spotlighting underrepresented populations that bring diversity to the campus.
“We had about 80 graduates who brought along an additional 140 family members and friends to celebrate graduation,” said Joshua Quinn, coordinator of Women, Gender and Sexuality Programs in the Office of Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
This was the first year that veterans were included in the Diversity Graduation celebration, which took place in the university’s Bayou Building. Sam Tijerina, who received his Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies, was among seven veterans crossing the stage.
Tijerina is a first-generation college student who transferred to UH-Clear Lake from San Jacinto College. Ultimately, he hopes to complete law school and begin a career in union advocacy.
“I thought the Diversity Graduation was really special,” Tijerina said. “I really pride myself on being a veteran. Of everything I do, I hope that people look at me and associate that more than anything else about me.”
Tijerina, a husband and father of three small children, said he discussed it with his wife and decided the kids would not be able to sit through the commencement ceremony on May 13 at NRG Arena.
“This way, the kids saw their dad walk up, I have a video of my sons running up to me, and it was a lot more intimate,” he said. “I would not have gotten this at the Arena. I really walked for my kids. I wanted to be an example for them and see themselves in higher education someday.”
Although he did attend the main event at NRG Arena with his wife, he said he felt that the Diversity Graduation was his “real” commencement because his children could be present and participate as well.
“It’s really important to me that this university does an alternative graduation,” he said. “I’m a very proud veteran graduate and the big commencement should be for everybody. But, it’s important to have this kind of ceremony to show the diversity in the crowd.”
The group of graduates is so diverse, Tijerina said it was important to acknowledge everyone. “They all have had a struggle and they all have a story,” he said. “It’s nice to have this recognition and know the university cares enough to do this. We feel that this is the moment when it all comes together and we are told we’ll always be a part of the UHCL family.”
Quinn said that each diverse population receives a certain commemorative item with historic significance as his or her name is called. The historical context of each item is explained to the audience, along with its importance in bringing inclusivity and granting access to populations who have been denied access to higher education in the past.
“Military graduates receive a challenge coin and not a stole,” he said. “There is a history to that. They receive a red, white and blue honor cord, and a challenge coin designed by the Office of Military and Veteran Services. Our veterans have met the challenge and have become UHCL alumni, so they receive one-of-a-kind challenge coins. This is the first year for this new tradition; no one else will have those.”
For more information about events and programs in the Office of Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, visit www.uhcl.edu/student-affairs/student-engagement/diversity-inclusion/