Abington celebrates 'village' that nurtured success among diverse new graduates

Woman hugging a relative

A Penn State Abington senior hugs a loved one at Cultural Graduation, which celebrates the accomplishments and determination of students of color and those who identify as first generation and LGBTQIA+ college students.

Credit: Onyx Clemons

ABINGTON, Pa. — For 40 Penn State Abington seniors, the theme of the Spring 2024 Cultural Graduation, "Against All Odds: Triumphing Over Adversity," resonated. Most of them completed high school in 2020, and, due to the pandemic, they didn’t experience traditional prom, awards or commencement ceremonies.

So on an April evening in the Sutherland Auditorium, they dressed in their best attire, and they cheered and cried along with loved ones, faculty and staff as they marked a milestone that many never dreamed they would achieve: earning a bachelor’s degree. 

“This is a celebration of the village and family who have supported you every step of the way. There are no limitations on your joy tonight, so dance, sing and shout to the ancestors,” Aneesah Smith, the director of the Student Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (SODEI), said. 

SODEI’s Cultural Graduation highlights the accomplishments and struggles of students of color and those who identify as first-generation and LGBTQIA+ college students. It is traditionally held a few days in advance of the official spring and fall commencement exercises. 

Several students including Mildred Petite-Frere and Maleeah Rashid spoke about how their experiences at Abington, the most diverse campus in the Penn State ecosystem, impacted them. 

“Work is more than making living, it’s having a purpose. I learned about teamwork, dedication, and tapping into my unknown potential. I created a family here,” Petite-Frere said.  

Rashid became a SODEI student ambassador.  

“I discovered that I’m stronger than my biggest fears. My time at Abington gave me a chance to break out of my shell,” she said. 

The emotional peak of the evening occurred when each senior was called to the stage to thank their loved ones, faculty and staff. They each were accompanied by a key supporter who draped a graduation sash around their neck.  

Abington administrators hailed the students for their remarkable achievements and personal growth. Nicole Stokes, interim vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, attributed much of the students’ success to their development of a growth mindset. 

"You see the world from an abundance perspective, and it leads you to look for solutions. You have already overcome so much, and you should frame these experience as you think about your next journey,” she said. 

Gina Kaufman, director of Student Affairs, thanked the students for unknowingly helping faculty and staff develop their experiences during the pandemic.  

“You are individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds who with grace and tenacity navigated unfamiliar landscapes. Remember that adversity doesn’t define us, it refines us,” she said. 

Erin Foley, director of Athletics, Intramurals, and Recreation, praised the student-athletes and reminded all students that the principles that apply to success on the field are relevant in real life as well. 

“You must position yourselves to face completion, both on and off the field, with your grit and ability to adapt. These skills will translate into creating avenues for your success,” she said. 

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 25 majors, accelerated master's degrees, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.