by Jonathan Gramling
inspirational to attend. Each of them would have their own cultural flourishes to celebrate the students’ achievements and they really
unscored the fact that it takes a village to raise a child. In the African and American Indian communities, academic achievement is a
community thing. While there was an American Indian virtual ceremony, it can’t take the place of the real thing with the drummers singing
an honor song as the students stand near-by. This year, there were only empty halls where these celebrations were traditionally held.
The Boys & Girls Club and Madison Metropolitan School District always celebrated the AVID/TOPS high school graduates with a “National
Signing Day” ceremony at Gordon Dining on the UW campus or another location. The students would publically declare which college they
had decided to attend in the fall. And of course there would be the group photos and the emotion of the moment. Gordon Dining is shuttered
and there has been no laughter and cheers for the graduates. It is silent.
I always enjoyed the in-person interviews with graduates from UW-Madison, Edgewood College and Madison College. In person, you get a
sense of their accomplishment and relief and sometimes a tear as they realize they won’t be seeing a lot of the people they went to college
with again. There is the eye contact and body language that always add to the understanding of the story.
And while I was still able to do stories on the graduates, our photos were always taken at least six feet away and sometimes more. And we
took them in front of campus buildings that would normally be brimming with people and graduation excitement. But there are only buildings
that surround the graduates. Without people, they are merely slabs of granite, stone and steel. The campus buildings look lost as if they have
lost their reason to be — and they had.
And then what really broke my heart was compiling the Hues Row of Excellence. I think this was my 25th year of highlighting the graduating
seniors of color in Dane County, first with The Madison Times and then at The Capital City Hues. I’ve lost track of the number much like
people have lost track of time under COVID-19.
Again there was a lot of energy and sometimes chaos going to area high schools taking photos of the students while they are called down to a
room by the multicultural services coordinators and guidance counselors. In the matter of an hour or two, we would have taken the photos
of 40-60 students per school with other outlying high schools like DeForest mailing theirs in. You can get a sense for who students are by
taking their photos and it makes it much easier to write a paragraph about them based on the information they shared.
But none of that happened this year. The MSCs and guidance counselors gave their all to get students to participate over the internet through
emails and fillable forms. I didn’t get any students from several high schools. Last year, I wrote profiles on 366 students and took the
photograph of the vast majority of them. This year, I took no photographs and about 160 students participated. I am grateful that we got that
many of them to participate given what they have experienced so far and the uncertain future that awaits them. These students are awesome
and I know like every class before them that they are going to do great things in this community and beyond.
I was very saddened when I learned the Madison Metropolitan Links would not be holding their African American Student Recognition this
year at Madison College. It was the first time in over 30 years that it hadn’t been held. Those were always such great events to cover. They
filled the gym at Madison College, not once, but twice, full of students, parents and well-wishers as our African American students received
the recognition they deserved for achieving at a high level. But this year, there was only an empty gym and silence.
But nonetheless, it’s important to make lemonade out of lemons in life. While we weren’t able to cover the Kinks recognition, we are
featuring the students who would have received the Links, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta and Omega Psi Phi scholarships at the
Dr, John Odom has a beautiful graduation message for our Hues Row of Excellence students.
And through the graduating student profiles, despite the social distancing, we learn of so many stories of courage and determination. I need
to put these stories on my refrigerator so that whenever I think my life has gotten hard that I look at these stories and realize that I don’t even
know what hard is.
And in the end, a graduation is still a graduation. Congratulations graduates for all that you have accomplished in spite of many things you
experienced. You got the right stuff. Congratulations!
Like everything else in the COVID-19 pandemic era — I’m almost sick of typing COVID-19 over and over
again — our spring graduation season has been too strange for words.
It is usually a joyous and energetic time with many graduation ceremonies and parties. Normally, I would go
to the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program and CeO graduation celebrations where we would take group photos
and it was always so inspirational to hear the students’ stories about the opportunities they had and the
challenges they overcame. And they profusely thanked staff, friends and family for giving them the support
they needed to overcome and cross the finish line. There was none of that this tear.
The African Association of Madison and American Indian Alaskan Native graduation ceremonies were always