People of Nia commencement: A celebration of purpose


Black Graduate Students Association

Black Graduate Students Association is currently accepting students interested in participating in People of Nia, a commencement ceremony for Black students who are graduating.

As graduation season rolls around, the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) hopes to honor the past and celebrate the future in an annual commencement ceremony called People of Nia.

The celebration, originally put together by students, has taken place every year since 1997. It is open to Black students who are graduating in spring 2023 or graduated in fall 2022.

“They really wanted to really prioritize students who were surviving and thriving at Iowa State and on track to graduate,” said A’Ja Lyons, a graduate student in the English department and president of BGSA. “Really it’s just a celebration of purpose and success and to really instill a sense of pride and ancestry…a celebration of what is to come and what has been.”

The name ‘People of Nia’ comes from the fifth principle of Kwanzaa, ‘Nia,’ which means purpose.

Lyons said students do not always feel represented at Iowa State, and celebrations like People of Nia can help bring a sense of community, especially for individuals in groups with low retention and high attrition rates.

Participating in People of Nia can also be a chance to get involved before leaving campus.

“We’re often overworked, especially graduate students,” Lyons said. “If you’ve spent the entire year working to make sure that you get your bills paid, doing schoolwork to make sure you earn a good grade and you never got the chance to engage in community, here’s a chance to do so.”

The ceremony will take place from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 5 in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.

The celebration is put together by the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) with sponsorship from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the division of student affairs and multicultural student success.

The organization currently has a form for students interested in participating to reserve a spot.

The master of ceremonies is Ambar Melendez Perez, a graduate student in natural resource ecology and management and vice president of BGSA.

“[Perez is] Puerto Rican, and we’re really glad that we have representation from all over the diaspora,” Lyons said.

The ceremony will include speakers chosen for their engagement in the community and strong speaking skills. The undergraduate speaker will be Ellington Smith, a senior in aerospace engineering, and the graduate speaker will be Antonio Quick, a PhD student in rhetoric and professional communication.

An additional speaker will be Barbara Woods, a program specialist in human sciences extension and outreach, who is retiring after 40 years.

During the ceremony, stoles will be handed out, and a slideshow of students with their pictures, names and degree will potentially play. The celebration will also include dinner, conversation and a DJ.

The event is open for anyone to attend. Historically, faculty, staff and administration have attended.

“We want people to show up, too,” Lyons said. “This is to celebrate those who have been underrepresented, you know, had to fight to be seen and heard…people are welcome to show up in solidarity.”

Lyons said People of Nia was created by graduate and undergraduate students, so both need to become involved in the ceremony.

“We really want to prioritize everyone being involved in this because the last couple of years, it’s primarily been just Black women doing this, and that cannot continue,” Lyons said. “Everyone needs to be involved with this as this is an institutional tradition.”