The University of Tennessee's diverse student population was recently celebrated at the 2019 Multicultural Graduation. This event was conducted to honor students from a variety of backgrounds for their academic achievement and upcoming college graduation.
Madison Woods, junior in chemistry who will be graduating in 2021, opened the ceremony.
“We believe it is important to honor and celebrate the commitment, dedication and perseverance of the class of 2019,” Woods said.
Vincent Carilli, the UT vice chancellor for Student Life, then addressed the crowd to commend students on their hard work throughout their time at UT.
“Not only are we celebrating the accomplishments of our tremendously talented group of students,” Carilli said. “But we’re also celebrating one fact that you may not know, and that is that in a few short weeks you will be part of a very special group.”
He went on to explain that, in reality, only 6.7% of the worldwide population has a college degree, a fact that may be shocking to those who are so heavily involved in the world of academia.
This achievement is not without strenuous dedication, which Carilli noted; he explained that the challenges that students in that room overcame had not gone unnoticed. Academic success is often preceded by challenge after challenge and difficulty after difficulty, all of which the diverse group of students graduating persisted through in order to complete their undergraduate degrees.
Carilli also added that through their hard work, these students matured and grown in numerous ways and have also contributed enormously to the improvement of UT as a whole.
“For me, our soon to be graduates who are present in this room embody the true volunteer spirit. Your hard work and dedication have made this campus a better, more inclusive place,” Carilli said. “I couldn’t be more proud of you for the strength and the resilience that you’ve demonstrated on your path to this moment and the work that you've done in service to your fellow students and your university.”
Candice Benbow addressed the students as this year’s Multicultural Graduation speaker. Benbow is a Tennessee State University graduate and a jack of many trades; she works as a theologian, essayist and social media influencer. Her work has been featured in several well-known publications, including “VICE.”
Benbow explained that when she lost her mother in 2015, her expectations for her future were suddenly and radically changed. The loss altered the course of her entire life. Presently, she is living in an apartment in New Jersey and is extremely successful. She is very happy with her life and her success, but her current situation is not what she anticipated at all—a fact that may go unnoticed by the outside world.
“I was loving my new life—one that I loved but also one completely different from the one I intentionally dreamed,” Benbow said.
She elaborated to spread a message of acceptance and kindness, explaining that we don’t know the stories of those we work with and go to school with. We don’t know the trials and tribulations that our neighbors have overcame to get to the place they are today. Benbow left the students with an encouraging message to carry through to their lives post-graduation.
“I wonder if we know the stories of the people we are walking around with. I wonder if we really know what they have gone through, what they have stitched inside of themselves to keep from spilling out onto all of us,” Benbow said. “I wonder if we know the people who move about us, who bump into us, who attempt to avoid us at all costs, I wonder if we really know their stories.”
Additionally, other students involved in Multicultural Student Life who are not yet graduating were also recognized for various academic achievements. These students earned a variety of scholarships and awards, including the Coca-Cola Scholarship, the Alex Haley Scholarship, the Leadership to the T award and more.