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Cultural and special-interest convocations celebrate Sun Devil heritage, pride

Students in caps and gowns clap while seated in an auditorium.

Students at the Asian/Asian Pacific American Convocation. Photo by Anitah Diggs/ASU Student Life

December 22, 2023

This fall, Arizona State University held a total of 28 ceremonies to celebrate the achievements of newly graduated Sun Devils — several of which were smaller convocations that championed students’ heritage or special interests.

With larger graduate and undergraduate commencements held at venues like Desert Financial Arena and Mountain America Stadium, special-interest and cultural convocations provide a time for families and friends to come together and celebrate students’ success and graduation in a more intimate setting: the Tempe campus Student Pavilion.

Focused on individual student recognition, each convocation is a signature event hosted by Educational Outreach and Student Services that honors the accomplishments and commitment of ASU’s diverse community. 

Held on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 9, the Asian/Asian Pacific American Convocation kicked off fall convocation season at ASU, honoring the accomplishments of ASU’s Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander Sun Devils. 

The convocation opened with Japanese taiko drumming and remarks by Regina Matos, dean of students at the West Valley campus, who introduced the group of distinguished students, alumni, faculty and staff who were seated on the ceremony platform. She also acknowledged the Indigenous ancestral land that ASU’s four campuses call home.

Cassandra Aska, deputy vice-president of Student Services at ASU, then took to the podium to give the university welcome.

“Family and guests of ASU graduates, we know you are proud of your students and the accomplishments they have achieved so far in their lives, and, in particular, graduating from Arizona State University,” Aska said. “I would like to acknowledge our ASU faculty, staff and senior leaders here today who have played a significant role in supporting many of the Asian and Asian Pacific American students we are honoring.”

Frances Julianne Sinoc, a graduating Sun Devil with a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, took to the stage as the student speaker. During her time at ASU, Sinoc served as the culture chair for the Philippine American Student Association, a committee chair for the annual SunMUN Model United Nations conferences and was a member of the Student Nurses' Association.

Next up to the podium was faculty speaker Kathryn Nakagawa, associate professor of Asian Pacific American Studies at ASU. It was a special moment for Nakagawa, as her child, Thea Eigo, was one of the graduating students honored at the ceremony, and the two serenaded the crowd with an inspiring ukulele song.

Woman playing a ukulele while another woman stands behind a lectern and speaks into a microphone at ASU's Asian/Asian Pacific American Convocation.
Associate Professor Kathryn Nakagawa and child Thea Eigo perform at the Asian/Asian Pacific American Convocation. Photo by Anitah Diggs/ASU Student Life

The group of graduating Sun Devils represented 15 colleges with 93 bachelor’s degrees, 62 master’s degrees and six doctoral degrees. Each graduate took the stage with pride as their name was called, and following remarks from alumni speaker Cindy Louie, the Asian/Asian Pacific American Convocation came to a close.

“Growing up in the Bay Area — where there's a really strong Asian community — I was really happy to find that there was also a strong community here,” said Eden Kim, fall 2023 graduate and former biomedical sciences major. “I really found a home in the AAPASCAsian/Asian Pacific American Students' Coalition community. And going to all the organizations, being a big part of them, and going to the cultural events really helped me have a safe place here. I'm really excited to be graduating in the Asian convocation and pay homage to that.”

Immediately following the Asian/Asian Pacific American Convocation, the Student Pavilion stage was reset for the International Student Stole Ceremony. ASU was recently named a top public university choice for international students for the third straight year, welcoming students from 157 countries around the world.

Amy Golden, dean of students at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus, opened the International Student Stole Ceremony by introducing the stage platform faculty, staff and students, and sharing the ASU Indigenous land acknowledgement. Alekhya Sistu, an international Sun Devil graduate student studying construction management and technology, performed a dance routine in one of India’s classic styles, Kuchipudi.

“Culture at ASU is reflected in every facet of life we know, and we are all the better because of it,” Golden said. “Our international and globally-minded domestic students create memorable programs and events, including International Night from the Coalition of International Students, the Global Peer Mentor program and various student-led global celebrations from numerous cultural clubs and organizations.”

Student speaker Shabbir Akbari, former president of the Coalition of International Students, vice president of the United States Green Building Council, vice president of the Design Build Institute of America, and a new graduate from ASU with a master’s degree in construction management technology, shared his student experience with the audience. He graduated with a 3.9 GPA and mentored more than 150 international student volunteers.

“As we gather here, I can’t help but think of the incredible journey we have been on,” Akbari said. “With dreams as diverse as our backgrounds, today we are here as a testament to our hard work, determination and the support of our family, faculty mentors and friends.”

Man standing behind a lectern speaking into a microphone at ASU's International Student Stole Ceremony.
Student speaker Shabbir Akbari at the International Student Stole Ceremony. Photo by Jr De Chavez

The graduating class at the International Student Stole Ceremony included Sun Devils represented by 14 colleges, with 64 bachelor’s degrees, 112 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. Staff speaker Halie Cousineau, manager of international advocacy initiatives at ASU, and alumni speaker Tahemin Afsha shared words of encouragement with the graduates to close out the ceremony.

“I'm thankful,” said Harshini Jayaprakash, Class of 2023 graduate student who studied electrical engineering. “I'm really grateful to be part of this convocation, and it's like a beautiful end to a very good journey. … My experience was really good being an international student; I got to meet a lot of people.” 

The following Tuesday, Dec. 12, the Rainbow Convocation focused on celebrating the accomplishments of ASU’s LGBTQ+ graduates. 

“Today’s ceremony recognizes the multiplicity of rainbow identities that create the community and the accomplishments of our Sun Devils,” said Daniel Drane, dean of students at ASU's Polytechnic campus, as he opened the convocation. 

Following the Indigenous land acknowledgement, student speaker Fabian Diaz Chacin, who was born and raised in Venezuela, shared his educational journey with the audience. Faculty speaker, Aaron Mallory, from the The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and alumni speaker Joseph Scarpa also shared their words of wisdom and inspirational backgrounds with the new grads.

Man standing behind a lectern speaking into a microphone at ASU's Rainbow Convocation.
Student speaker Fabian Diaz Chacin at the Rainbow Convocation. Photo by Jr De Chavez

The graduating rainbow class represented 13 colleges, with 97 bachelor’s degrees, 13 master's degrees and one doctoral student.

“I have a girlfriend and I identify as bi,” said Nicole Carloni, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in family and human development. “I thought it would be fun to be with people who are similar to me and to celebrate my accomplishments with people from the same community.”

Two days later, on Thursday, Dec. 14, the Student Pavilion played host to the Black African Convocation, a celebration of ASU’s Black, African American and African student graduates.

Aska officiated the convocation, sharing the Indigenous land acknowledgement and introducing the platform faculty, staff and student leaders, including Dantá McGilvery, who delivered the invocation, rites of passage and benediction, and student Nigel Dawson, who led the graduates through a solo performance of the Black National Anthem. 

“Today’s ceremony is special because we’re taking the time to honor the Black, African and African American graduates who have achieved the tremendous accomplishment of completing their respective degrees from Arizona State University,” Aska said. “With a revitalized commitment by President Crow to Black faculty, staff and students through the ASU LIFT — Listen, Invest, Facilitate, Teach — an initiative that was launched in fall 2020, we can only continue to grow the number of Black scholars at Arizona State University.”

Student speaker Lillis Lloyd, who earned a Master of Legal Studies, faculty speaker Quintin Boyce, associate vice president of outreach for Educational Outreach and Student Services, and alumni speaker Kiana Sears all took the stage to share wisdom from their educational journeys and inspiring words for the Class of 2023.

“You are in control of your story,” Boyce said. “Some will support you, some will bring you down. What you control is how you respond, because you are in control of your own story.”

The ceremony also highlighted one particularly unique Sun Devil in the group of graduates: 15-year-old Alena McQuarter, who had earned her high school diploma at just 12 years old and became the youngest Black student to get accepted into medical school one year later. Now, after studying at Barrett, The Honors College, she earned an undergraduate degree in biological sciences with a minor in global health and is working toward a graduate degree.

“I think it’s important to really find your community in whatever college you go to,” McQuarter said. “The Black African Convocation really brings that community together, showing our heritage and how strong we are.”

Student wearing a cap and gown and holding flowers.
Alena Mcquarter holding flowers at the Black African Convocation. Photo by Anitah Diggs/ASU Student Life

Sun Devils at the Black African Convocation represented 15 colleges, with 101 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. 

In addition to the heritage and special-interest convocations held by Educational Outreach and Student Services, American Indian Student Support Services, the Office of Government and Community Engagement and the ASU Alumni Veterans chapter each held ceremonies for graduating Sun Devils: the American Indian Convocation, the Hispanic Convocation and the Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony, respectively.

Written with contributions from Kaitlyn Beickel, Jr De Chavez and Mia Milinovich from ASU Student Life.

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