At that time, there were very few Latino faculty members at the university and no course offerings that might be called Chicano or Latino Studies today. The secondary commencement ceremony was established to recognize the unique backgrounds of Latino students in a setting that would feel inclusive to them.
Though management of the event has changed hands over the years, the ceremony itself has stayed mostly the same.
It takes place the day before Stanford’s official graduation and begins with a Spanish mass at the historic Stanford Memorial Church, a Romanesque building erected in the shape of a cross. The commencement is held in the church, too. Graduates line up outside with their parents and proceed into the building.
The ceremony is bilingual. Faculty and staff from the student resource center El Centro Chicano y Latino speak about each of the graduates as they and their parents receive stole-shaped serapes. Students, along with their parents and grandparents, then turn and face the crowd, taking in a moment of cross-generational triumph. The whole family receives applause, and then it’s off to a reception with food, drink and mariachi music.
This year, some 90 students participated in Nuestra — the largest group to date. Alternative commencements have recently become more popular on college campuses. Harvard hosted its first commencement for black graduate students this spring. Columbia has its own ceremony for first-generation graduates, and the University of Delaware has joined a growing list of colleges with “Lavender” ceremonies for L.G.B.T. graduates.
These ceremonies aren’t held in place of official graduation ceremonies, but are an additional celebration of the work of students from marginalized communities. So often, students who come from backgrounds that aren’t well represented at their college feel that they don’t belong; or if they fit in, they may end up feeling distanced from the…