On Thursday, May 10, 2018, a celebratory occasion will take place in TD Arena – the Nia Rite of Passage ceremony. For the past six years, this celebration has acknowledged the accomplishments of the College’s African-American students upon their graduation. And this year it will be a little more meaningful.
Nia – the Swahili term for purpose – implies a collective yearning for building and developing the African-American community in order to restore its traditional greatness. The ceremony honors not only the graduates themselves, but also those that supported them and helped them to achieve, including parents, family and loved ones.
This spring, the Nia Rite of Passage ceremony will be especially poignant because it’s taking place during the 50th anniversary of the College’s integration. It was in the fall of 1967 that the first African-American students were admitted, and though that may seem like a long time ago, it’s a time easily recollected by at least one individual at the College.
Otto German ‘73, who came to the College as a student in 1969 and has worked in many areas of the institution and contributed greatly since graduating, remembers being among only a handful of black students on campus a half century ago.
“I’m very fortunate to be a part of the history of the College with regard to integration, and part of its rich longstanding tradition in academics and athletics,” says German, who is the College’s associate athletics director for compliance. “I’m extremely proud that I’m one of the pioneers that paved the way for the black students who will walk across the Cistern this May to receive their degrees.”
The College graduated its first African-American student – Eddie Ganaway – in 1971, and since then, more than 3,600 African-American students have walked across the Cistern and received their diplomas. For the past six years, those graduates have stood out during commencement by way of the brightly colored stoles they receive at the Nia Rite of Passage ceremony, which began as a CofC tradition in 2011.
Teresa Smith, who directs the Office of Multicultural Student Programs and Services, is the person who originated this ceremony at the College. Part of her inspiration, she says, was a template developed by Patricia Williams Lessane, executive director of the College’s Avery Research Center.
“The Nia Rite of Passage was established to give African-American students an opportunity to celebrate their impending graduation,” Smith says. “It also enables their families to share in commemorating the day. Many people are involved in the retention of the students, and this celebration provides an opportunity for everyone to say ‘well done.’”
The Nia Rite of Passage ceremony will take place May 10, 2018, at 4 p.m. in TD Arena. Faculty, staff and students are welcome to attend. A reception will be held immediately following in the McAlister Hospitality Suite. Faculty and staff who plan to attend should register with the Office of Multicultural Student Programs and Services by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org by April 27.