June 1st, 1973: As thousands of UCLA graduating students sat in Drake Stadium, ready to hear their name and receive their diploma, the few number of Raza students amongst the class sat ready to redefine the impersonal graduation process. Although emotions of excitement were felt throughout the graduating class, for the Raza students on campus, this so-called “celebration” of their accomplishment also felt extremely unwelcoming.
While it was meant to celebrate the achievements of students’ efforts at UCLA, the graduation had no relevance or connection to the experience of the Raza students. The ceremony was only held in English and tickets for students were limited. Although the Raza students wanted to acknowledge the help their family and community gave them throughout their time in school, the school’s graduation process implied the school did not want to recognize the community the students came from. Yet, rather than comply with the process, and accept their accomplishment as an individual effort, the Raza students at the graduation threw their caps in the air and walked out in protest of the impersonal, English-only, and culturally irrelevant ceremony.
As the students walked out of the ceremony to a speech read by Chancellor Charles E. Young explaining the reason behind the protest, the booing coming from the predominantly white crowd reflected the alienation these and many other Raza students felt on campus throughout their college experience, as well as the reality of the racial inequality dominant on the campus.
Waiting for them on the lawns of Sunset Canyon Recreation, with open arms and delicious food, were the family and friends of these students. With the presence of loved ones, food, and a small impromptu stage on the back of a flatbed semi, the first UCLA Raza Graduation was born.
Unlike the UCLA Letters and Science commencement ceremony, Raza Grad does not limit tickets for the families and friends of the participating graduates, is bilingual in order for families to understand, and features culturally relevant and empowering speakers and performers that the audience can relate to.
Since its initiation, Raza Grad focuses on ensuring all Raza students and communities have the opportunity to be a part of the culturally empowering ceremony that celebrates the cultural diversity and history of Latinas/Latinos and Chicanas/Chicanos at UCLA.
For this reason, the identity of a Raza student and thus the invitation to Raza Grad is not limited to students who identify as Chicana/o Latina/o. It is not limited to students from particular backgrounds. It is not limited to students from certain areas of study, or even restricted for graduating students.
Raza Graduation is open to all: undergraduates, post-graduates, students of different races and ethnicities, students with different majors, and anyone who values the access to higher education and retention of our communities.
Forty two years later, Raza Grad continues to be a student-initiated, student-run graduation celebration at UCLA that honors the success of each Raza graduate in achieving a degree in higher education. As Spring quarter begins, the excitement of graduation once again starts to fill the air all around campus. Now held at Pauley Pavilion, this year’s Raza Graduation will take place on Sunday, June 14th 2015.
First initiated by UCLA’s MEChA in 1973, MEChA de UCLA successfully continues to plan, fundraise for, and host the ceremony through the suggestions and decisions made from a committee consisting of volunteer Raza students on campus that also participate in fundraising, outreach, and community service activities.
In the involvement of the students to plan the ceremony, Raza Grad becomes a representation of community building, unity, and resilience. It is a celebration built for the community by the community. To be able to see my fellow Raza peers ready to embark on life’s next journey despite the bullshit we have faced in this university, whatever it may be, is truly inspiring and motivating to myself; however, in acknowledging each of our experiences, we also recognize that our journey was not one we traveled alone.
The theme for this year’s graduation is: “Mis Raíces Son Mi Orgullo y Poder,” “My Roots Are My Pride and Power.” This year’s Raza graduation wants to focus on the efforts and accomplishments of our families and communities rather than ourselves. 42 graduations later, we still recognize the strength our families and communities give us to survive the harsh world of the UCLA campus.
As a graduating student, I am grateful for a ceremony my parents will be able to understand and be able to feel a part of. This degree that I have earned is not only for me, but for my parents, who have spent most of their lives tirelessly working to provide my siblings and I with as much support as they could to help us succeed. This graduation is more for my parents and my community than it is for myself. It is important that this celebration continues to thrive because Raza Grad not only helps us celebrate and recognize our accomplishments, but also helps us honor the community that helped us get here, and inspires us to give back to it as well.
If you wish to participate in Raza Graduation for June 2015, please register at: