This Wednesday afternoon will mark the first Black Graduate and Professional Students Ceremony to honor graduating students of African descent and their allies.

The pre-commencement celebration will be held May 9 at 5:00 p.m. in Goodson Chapel and will be hosted by the Black Graduate and Professional Students Association, Student Affairs and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. 

Rachelle Olden, the chairman of the event organizing committee and a second-year at the Fuqua School of Business, said that after she contacted institutional entities for support, the event was organized within a month and a half.

“In March, we all sat down at a meeting, I submitted a one-pager about…what the event would look like, and they threw their support behind it—institutional support as well as financial support—and then we got to work,” Olden said.

Olden said that it was quite exciting to receive support from the Duke administration, as well as financial support from Pratt School of Engineering and Fuqua.

She added that the registration for the event has exceeded her expectations.

“There are about 240 students of African descent who are graduating this year, and so we thought, ‘Ok, this is going to be the first year, let’s just get 50,’” she said. “And right now, we have 106 people registered to participate.”

Chandra Guinn, director of the Mary Lou Williams Center, supported the planning process for the event. She wrote in an email that the undergraduate student community has a similar ceremony, which began in 1993.

“There have been previous events where Black graduate and professional students gathered to celebrate collectively their time at Duke,” Guinn wrote. “During my tenure, this is the first formal ceremony for Black graduate and professional students.”

Olden noted that she was inspired by the undergraduate ceremony, as well as similar ceremonies at other schools such as Harvard and Stanford.

She hopes that the event will build and sustain community at Duke.

“The purpose is really about identifying, acknowledging and celebrating community,” Olden said. “Raising together all of the Duke Black graduate and professional school students to understand—to really emphasize—‘One Duke.’”