Op/Ed By Dr. E. Faye Williams
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Holidays are wonderful respites from the daily grind. They represent periods of reflection consistent with their original naming, “holy days,” or they may provide us with a secular period of rest that is primarily for us to take a “well-needed break.” It’s not unusual for a person to have a favorite holiday, or even more than one. Coming from a large family, as I do, any holiday that affords an opportunity for our family to fellowship together is a favorite of mine.
More than reflection or rest, there are occasions during the year that don’t fit the description of a holiday, but have significant importance to the larger portion of our community. Graduation Day is such a day. It is a day when many of us look at the present with pride in our graduates and optimism for the future outcomes of our communities. In the most basic of terms, Graduation Day qualifies as a holiday in and for our community.
Like many who have preceded me, I believe that the ultimate success of our communities rests in producing young women and men of intellect and character. Both of those qualities can be achieved in the process of academic stimulation. I think it unquestionable that the “pathway to success” begins with a quality education.
Whether tradition or gesture to honor the woman most precious to most of us, university graduations tend to occur around Mother’s Day. Many universities, especially HBCU’s, are noted for this. Along with the blessing of a mother in good health to honor and cherish, I share the pride of many of my friends and associates who are mothers of children who matriculate into adulthood.
Graduation Day this year was significant as I reflected on “current events” at the US Military Academy at West Point and Howard University. Respectively, we had a threat to female West Point Cadets and the final commencement address to Howard University by President Barack Obama.
While not until Saturday, May 21st, the West Point graduation has been the focal point of discussion surrounding the conduct of a group of cadets. Sixteen graduating female African American Cadets took a pre-graduation photo showing them grouped with clinched-fists held high. As expected, analyses – expressing explanation to anger – accompanied the release of the photograph.
In a decision that could have affected their graduation eligibility, West Point stated the cadets didn’t violate Department of Defense or Army regulations in their photo. An inquiry determined that no punitive action will be taken after finding their gesture was intended to demonstrate “unity” and “pride.” It is refreshing to see that the Army and DoD have moved toward a greater understanding and sensitivity to the cultural imperatives of its members.
Although out-of-town visiting my mother, I listened to President Obama deliver more than a commencement address. He chose the occasion of his final address to a Howard University graduating class to deliver an advanced lesson on civic responsibility. One take-away from his speech was that each graduate AND member our community has a responsibility to use her/his intellect and power of the vote to assure the guarantees for which our fore parents sacrificed and fought.
I’m sure the President wants us to understand that we acquire education for reasons other than a diploma display. Like the cadets, our communities remain misunderstood by institutions and those controlling them until we challenge them to learn. Graduation Days mean very little to the long-term health of our community unless we use them to advance our collective accomplishments and create an environment of greater opportunity for those who follow.
Mothers will always love us and take pride in us. The greater challenge is for us to be proud of the future we shape for our communities.