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With food and music, University of Michigan holds the 14th Celebración Latina

ANN ARBOR—Amid traditional Mexican music and dancing, more than 250 people gathered at the Michigan League on Friday to honor over 60 Latino students receiving their degrees at the University of Michigan.

Speakers at the 2015 La Celebración Latina ceremony comfortably switched from English and Spanish as they discussed the graduates’ accomplishments and the work that needs to be done to create more opportunities for Latinos.

“You’re going to do something good. You’re going to be successful,” student speaker Alexa Lynch told the crowd. “We’re still going to face challenges and when you’re facing those challenges, remember what motivates you.”

“Thank you to those who have come to support your children, your friends. When they feel that they can’t go on, remind them that they are successful, that they can make it.”

Celebración Latina was one of many events celebrating the graduation of more than 9,000 students.

During the ceremony, Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion, told students attending events like this is what makes his job so good.

“Earning a U-M degree is quite an achievement,” he said.  “It is an achievement that you should take great pride in and have a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Today is a day that you should strut your stuff without reservation.”

While he recognized the achievement of those who are carrying the tradition of attending U-M and those who are following in their parents’ steps to go to college, he also recognized a group who are the first in their families to graduate from college.

“You are the ones who are truly inspirational. You are the foundation from which your families’ legacy of higher education will be built.”

Keynote speaker José A. Bauermeister, co-director of the Center for Sexuality & Health Disparities at U-M’s School of Public Health, told students of his own experience as a recent graduate when his professor told him one day he would realize how little she had taught him and how she hoped he would be better than she. While that made little sense at the time, he said, he later understood.

“You see, her words weren’t made out of insecurities – they were actually built on hope,” he said. “A hope that … I wish for all of you: Understand that what you’ve learned in these past few years is only a small step towards new knowledge and, in that awareness, build on the hopes of those who have gotten you here by using that knowledge to push the boundaries that those who came before you could not.

“As Latinos, we continue to make great strides towards achieving equity and justice for our communities, yet we have so much work ahead of us,” he said. “We must continue to name and address the structural struggles that affect our communities. Securing the rights of the ‘Dreamers’ generation and their families, creating a fair and just immigration reform, ensuring that we have adequate representation and vote within our government, offering adequate remuneration for Latino workers, reducing racism, homophobia, sexism and transphobia in our communities, are among the key social justice challenges of our time.

“As a Latino family, we must act to secure a better future for all of us,” he said.

During the ceremony, Yakaira Alexander-Ramos received the 2015 La Celebración Latina Circle Award. A native of Puerto Rico, Alexander-Ramos was recognized for her work in advocating and empowering diverse student populations by facilitating community mobilization around issues of diversity and social justice.

Students receiving their degree said what they liked the most about their experience at U-M was the camaraderie they felt while here.

“I wouldn’t be here without the different communities on campus that supported me. We did it. Vamos Azul. Go Blue,” said Everlin Guitiérrez, who received a bachelor’s in biopsychology and cognitive neuroscience.

César Andrés Figueroa, a native of Colombia who lived in México and Oregon before attending U-M, said he plans to find a job in Oregon with his degree in mechanical engineering.

“I found support here, with new friends from Colombia. I was away from my family but I found that human connection,” he said.