Affinity Grad celebrations honor diversity of CSUMB graduates

Photo collage of affinity graduates

Affinity graduates from left to right, top to bottom: Tamirah Gallaread, Karla Ramirez Sorto, Ken Townend, Darchelle Burnett, Seaenna Correa-Garcia

May 21, 2021

By Tatiana Olivera

Published May 13, 2021 — Updated May 19, 2021

2021 marks the 25th year that CSUMB will honor, through its affinity graduation celebrations, the accomplishments and experiences of its graduating students who come from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. Due to the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, graduates will be celebrated in a series of videos that will be posted on the Otter Student Union webpage on Friday, May 21.

The eight ceremonies are: Asian and Pacific Islander (API), Black, Chicanx/Latinx, Native American, Student Awareness for Disability Empowerment, Rainbow, Undocumented, and Veteran Grad. While the ceremonies will be held virtually this year, students are still excited to see themselves in the videos.

Darchelle Burnett, who identifies as Afro-Indigenous, will be in both the Black Grad and Native American Grad celebration videos. She is a first-generation student, the youngest of five children, and a member of the Choctaw nation of Oklahoma.

“I carry the strength and perseverance of my mother and father,” Burnett said. “As the affinity grad celebrations come around, I look forward to seeing my name and picture come across the screen, knowing that I am the first in my family to accomplish academic success and the first to move forward to my masters.”

Seaenna Correa-Garcia identifies as an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and is also a first-generation student. She is proudly participating in the API Grad video and looks forward to seeing it because it provides a way for family and supporters to celebrate their graduating loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Being recognized as an AAPI graduate, to me, is especially important within our families because it recognizes the many sacrifices that we and our families have made to obtain this education,” Correa-Garcia said. “Although our API celebration will not be in person, I am so grateful for the opportunity to celebrate this achievement, being recognized and representing my AAPI heritage.”

Veteran graduate Ken Townend is grateful for this final opportunity to send a goodbye message to the friends and mentors he met at CSUMB.

“[Veteran Services Coordinator] Giselle Young has been so supportive of all the veterans on campus,” he said. “I will miss her very much.”

While parting from student life at CSUMB is bittersweet for these graduates, they are grateful for the knowledge, skills, and opportunities their time here has given them. More than anything, graduates say they will remember CSUMB for its caring community and its dedication to underrepresented communities.

In addition to a video celebration, affinity students are excited to be part of the in-person drive-thru commencement on May 22.

CSU Monterey Bay is a wonderful university that has a welcoming attitude to all people. As the president of the Student Veterans organization on campus, I always share with incoming veterans how wonderful it is to see how the former Fort Ord has gone from a military base to an amazing place of higher learning.
— Ken Townend
Photo: Ken Townend
Ken Townend with his service dog Lucy
The students of CSUMB have helped me find my sense of belonging. Being a member and eventually being elected as president of the Asian and Pacific Islander Association, I've seen and personally experienced the power of having such a supportive, active, and strong community within the larger population of CSUMB.
— Seaenna Correa-Garcia
Photo: Seaenna Correa-Garcia
Seaenna Correa-Garcia
I will miss the individual efforts that staff and faculty take to ensure I and others have access to resources and opportunities that are specific to our identities. They did so while also creating ways to engage diverse and marginalized students in conversation and research on how we can better provide and develop inclusivity for underrepresented populations on campus.
— Darchelle Burnett
Photo: Darchelle Burnett
Darchelle Burnett
The CSUMB communities that have, to say the least, all supported the way I view inclusivity are: the Otter Student Union, the Otter Cross Cultural Center, the PGCC, the Black Student Union, the NAACP, APIA, the Center for Black Student Success, MECHA, and Undocumented Otters. It means so much to be able to exist with all my identities and have those safe places and support that show me I do belong. I will forever be grateful for OSU as well as OC3 for being such a huge part of my community at CSUMB, allowing my voice to be heard, and reminding me that there is space for me.
— Tamirah Gallaread
Photo: Tamirah Gallaread
Tamirah Gallaread
The people and the environment of CSUMB make it feel inclusive. Many of the support programs host events that celebrate diversity, which make you feel like you belong on campus.
— Karla Ramirez Sorto
Photo: Karla Ramirez Sorto
Karla Ramirez Sorto