Carnegie Mellon University: The Center Offers Everyday Kinds of Love to Graduates

The Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion is known to most people at Carnegie Mellon University as simply “the Center,” a place where students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds can find a place of belonging.

Katterin White has been a part of its community since before the Center was known by either name. After nearly 10 years at CMU as an undergraduate, staff member and master’s student, White celebrated with nearly 300 community members at the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion Commencement Ceremony, on May 14, in the Tepper Building and streamed online.

The ceremony honored all graduating students from the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 who had connected with the Center during their time at CMU. White was one of the speakers.

“A collection of really big and really small things helped me get here,” she said. “I want to remember both big and small pieces, the everyday kinds of love that people have shown me.”

Like many in attendance, White’s journey at CMU was not easy.

“I really appreciate having this space to celebrate. When I was an undergraduate, I felt like I was barely making it,” White said. “As a master’s student I thought about how only 4% of Latina women in the United States have a master’s degree, and now I’m one of them. There’s a certain gravitas and importance around that.”

M. Shernell Smith, the executive director of the Center, said the graduation ceremony was a way to formally acknowledge the important milestone. She and her staff wanted to recreate the atmosphere of the Center for the graduates and those who helped them along the way.

“We are here to celebrate the concept of family,” Smith said. “Maya Angelou once stated that our mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style. And that’s exactly how we want to engage with you today in celebration as a Center family.”

The celebration was not the first introduction to the Center for many families. Catherine Taipe’s parents have been visiting it since she was a first-year student, even spending time there playing Jenga with others during Family Weekend.

“We are here to celebrate the concept of family.” — M. Shernell Smith

Taipe, the outgoing student body vice president and a double major in international relations and politics and social and political history said the Center was a place of celebration and comfort.

“In a weird way, this graduation celebration is about survival. My journey at CMU was not easy at all. I went through all the hiccups that college students do — mental health, doing school during a pandemic. Commencement means I made it.”

Taipe also spoke at the event. Other speakers included students Rama Hassabelnabi, Quinton Thomas, Justin Wang, Allanté Whitmore and Brittany McCandless Farmer, the president-elect of the CMU Alumni Association Board. Two School of Drama graduates contributed performances. Emily S. Chang read, “A House Called Tomorrow,” a poem by Alberto Ríos, and Tara Lashan Clinkscales performed “Ain’t it Good?” from the musical “Children of Eden.”

Brig. Gen. Robert Bowie serves as president of the Carnegie Mellon Black Alumni Association. He spoke about family attending his graduation from the College of Engineering in 1989.

“At that point, it was the biggest day in my life, it was one of the most important events in the Bowie family history, especially for my grandparents,” he said. “In their lifetime they attended segregated schools and they had few options to attend college. In May 1989 their grandson had a choice and was graduating from Carnegie Mellon. It was beyond their imagination.”

Whitmore, who earned a joint Ph.D. in engineering and public policy and civil and environmental engineering, said she hoped the new graduates would be able to find community in their new lives.

“I hope that all of you … recognize that you’ve had a special place [at CMU] and can use that to differentiate and use your discernment … professionally or academically, and also be some change if you want to see something different.”

The Center also held celebrations for first-generation graduates and the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

“All three celebrations are meant to be a deep dive in the students, bringing a sense of joy, sense of belonging,” Smith said.

Carnegie Mellon University