Joy was in the air at the second annual celebration to honor Black and Latinx-identified undergraduate and graduate students who, through resolute persistence, successfully completed an undergraduate or graduate degree at Rutgers University–Camden.
Known as the Rites of Passage, this meaningful ceremony that precedes commencement honors Black, African, and Latinx students, many of whom are the first in their families to receive degrees.
The words “We. See. You.” rang out as keynote speaker Lloyd Freeman (RLAW'07) took to the stage. He congratulated over 200 graduates attending the ceremony held on May 15 at Freedom Mortgage Pavilion in Camden, N.J.
"It is beautiful to look out and see so many talented black and brown college graduates,” Freeman said. “I graduated from a historically black university, so this is a scene I remember all too well.
“And if I know people of color, I know there are three words you will hear today and throughout graduation season about a thousand times:
WE. SEE. YOU."
Freeman, who is chief diversity and inclusion officer for the law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, P.C., challenged graduates to push beyond their fears and to be present—and seen—on their new journeys.
He encouraged the graduates not to shrink from the disappointments that will inevitably be a part of the road ahead; instead, in spite of disappointments or setbacks, he asked the graduates to show up, take up space, and be their most authentic selves as they progress through their careers.
"It may not be so comfortable,” Freeman said. “That's likely because your family won't be there. Your friends won't be there. And there may not be many people of color there.
“That's where my line of work is important. I work to make the workplace more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. I understand that it's not comfortable.”
He added that the odds are stacked against these graduates. “You can overcome any obstacle, including the workplace, Freeman said. “Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve simply because of your race or ethnicity. Believe in yourself and in your Rutgers education."
Freeman added, “I am here to tell you how to manage your visible invisibility. The first way is through self-affirmations. The media doesn't show people like you in a cap and gown or talk about people in Camden getting college degrees. But you made it! Tell yourself, "I see you!"
In closing, Freeman encouraged the graduates to be proud of their heritage and race, have confidence in who they are, and to be secure in all they have accomplished.
Creative Design: Beatris Santos