Academics People and Community

Senior Mwambo ceremony celebrates Black graduates

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs hosted the annual rite of passage on Tuesday and honored graduating Black students as they prepare for the next chapter in their lives.
A graduate receives her stole at the 2022 Senior Mwambo Ceremony.
A student participates in the Senior Mwambo ceremony at the Shalala Student Center on Tuesday, May 10. Photos: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

From their first steps on campus to their final walk across the commencement stage, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) takes pride in supporting and celebrating the multicultural student community at the University of Miami.

At the annual Senior Mwambo ceremony on Tuesday, MSA and a host of other campus partners including the Division of Student Affairs, the Department of Student Life, the Black Alumni Society, and more recognized and celebrated Black graduates as they transition from their lives at the University of Miami to advanced education and professional careers.

Before students walked across the stage to receive their kente cloth stoles, they were greeted and congratulated by Christopher Clarke, MSA director; Donald Spivey, Distinguished Professor of History and special advisor to the president on racial justice; and Renee Dickens-Callan, assistant vice president of student life.

“What the University of Miami has done for you is give you the foundation to go out here and lead,” said Spivey. “Think of yourselves as a member of a relay race, and you now have the baton. It’s your turn to go out there and run the leg as best you can and hand it off to the next generation.”

MSA Assistant Directors Kennedy Robinson (left) and Stephanie Nunez (right) pose with Michelle Atherley, one of the 2022 Nanga Award recipients.
MSA Assistant Directors Kennedy Robinson (left) and Stephanie Nuñez (right) pose with Michelle Atherley, one of the 2022 Nanga Award recipients.  

Patricia A. Whitely, senior vice president for student affairs, introduced alumnus Jason E. Starr, a Black queer attorney, educator, and strategist in the fight for human rights, who delivered the keynote address.

The South Carolina native is the founding director of Impact Litigation and current director of Litigation for the Human Rights Campaign. Having stood on the front line of some of the most significant civil rights challenges in the past several years, Starr reflected on his own experiences with overcoming anxieties and encouraged students to empower others as they grow into new spaces beyond the University.

With the vision of Senior Mwambo’s creator, international student Patrick A. Masala, in mind, Starr took time to reflect on the Black alumni who paved the way for students who are graduating this week.

“This is an opportunity to recognize that our journey at this institution is made even more special because it’s connected to some things and some ones who have knitted themselves together in love of alma mater—the visible and invisible foundation that are Black UM,” said Starr as he named a number of notable Black University graduates including Benny O’Berry, the first Black student to graduate from the University in 1962.

Starr went on to share the things that impacted him most when he was a student at the University and made sure to highlight the students’ vigor to persevere as they completed their degrees amid a global pandemic.

“Your achievements today represent much more than an academic milestone. You’ve encountered and dealt with much more than that,” he said. “I think about life as a book, and there are many chapters already written for us. When I think about what’s necessary to save this world, I see the solution in your story.”

During the event, author, healer, and educator Joshua Sa-Ra performed a libation—a ritual pouring of water—as an offering to honor and respect the ancestors who paved the way.

To close the event, Kennedy Robinson and Stephanie Nuñez, both assistant directors at MSA, presented graduating students Michelle Atherley and Tiyah Snell with the 2022 Nanga Awards for their outstanding contributions to the University.

“These students are being awarded this distinction because of their dedication, hard work, and most of all their humility,” said Robinson.