Community-wide Grad Celebrations 27 Years Strong

A woman stands speaking at a podium with a Gonzaga logo on the front
Rev. Stephy Nobles-Beans inspired at the African American Graduation Celebration

May 18, 2023
Gonzaga University News Service

Two community groups continued their longstanding traditions of gathering to celebrate their high-school and college graduates, meeting at Gonzaga to recognize their students’ accomplishments.


two separate images from african american celebration

(Above, left: President Thayne McCulloh congratulates a student who has just received her Kente cloth. Right: Members of the Washington State Step Team Alliance perform a recessional.)

On April 22, the African American Graduation Celebration honored more than 50 grads from Spokane area high schools and more than 20 from local colleges, including Gonzaga, Whitworth, Eastern and the Community Colleges of Spokane.

Borrowing from the popular Nina Simone song of 1969, the theme was “Young, Gifted and Black” – a message powerfully conveyed by Rev. Stephy Nobles-Beans, the associate chaplain for diversity, equity and inclusion ministries and adjunct professor of diverse Christian leadership at Whitworth University.

Several traditions from African cultures were highlights of the ceremony. These included a libation to acknowledge ancestors, a Swahili karibu welcome, and the presentation of a Kente cloth to each grad – a ceremonial cloth used as a symbol of a royal African past, ancestral connectedness, diverse heritage and cultural richness.  


three elements of a native american graduation celebration

(Above left: Gonzaga Law grad Mariah Welch receives her Native sash, which is shown close up in center. At right, Isacc Tonasket offers an honor song.)

On April 26, the Native American Community Graduation gathered to recognize Native grads from nearly 30 regional high schools, as well as nearly 30 graduates from local colleges, including Gonzaga, North Idaho College, the Community Colleges of Spokane, WSU and other trade schools such as Carrington College and Glen Dow Academy. These students represented many tribes and bands, from Tohono O’odham and Ojibwe to Sioux, Blackfeet, Turtle Mountain Chippewa and more.

Marty Whelshula (Coeur d’Alene tribe) and Isacc Tonasket (Spokane tribe) led blessings and honor songs with drumming.

The collaboration of the schools and communities for both of these graduations is strong as the tradition moves toward 30 years of communal celebrations.

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