Annual Celebration of Excellence recognizes graduating students of color

Contact: Joy Brown

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Multicultural graduates were highlighted during Western Michigan University’s Celebration of Excellence. The fifth annual ceremony, which was offered for the first time virtually this year, honored the accomplishment of students of color and welcomed them to the University’s alumni community.

Developed by students, the ceremony is a collaboration between student groups and administrative areas, including the Office of the Provost for Academic Affairs, Development and Alumni Relations, the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

This year’s ceremony was dedicated in memory of chemical engineering senior Bassey Offiong, 25, who died in March from complications from COVID-19. Also recognized was the late Dr. Roger Pulliam, a 1966 Master of Arts in Education graduate and renowned educator who was committed to promoting diversity among students and faculty, and who helped establish WMU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Scholars Academy.

“We’re all facing a difficult time. While we shelter in place, it can be easy to feel disconnected from the world and your university,” President Edward Montgomery acknowledged for the ceremony. “Please know that we miss your presence too, but that you remain an important part of WMU and we want to continue to celebrate your successes. I hope that each of you, during your years on campus, have had the opportunity to grow and learn, not just in terms of academics, but also as a person who is capable of amazing accomplishments in so many different realms. You’ve already demonstrated your talents to us. Please don’t stop amazing the world with your gifts.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Marzieh Noori, a Fulbright Scholar from Afghanistan who earned her master’s degree in higher education leadership and student affairs this spring. Before arriving in the U.S., she worked as the project director for a U.S. Embassy-funded effort in Afghanistan that included the Ministry of Higher Education’s largest female residence hall, which served more than 1,500 students from around the country. She has also been a fitness trainer, a dance coach, and a model. 

During her tenure at WMU, Noori served as the vice president for the Fulbright Student Organization and as president of a student organization serving the interests of Afghan students. She has tried to bring different cultures together to share their experiences, learn from each other and ultimately stay united. 

For her master’s capstone, Noori worked in the Office of Student Engagement and International Student Activities. Her project focused on bringing international and domestic students together to appreciate diversity and learn from each other’s experiences. She also worked on a project to supporting Afghan women in leadership positions in Afghanistan through WMU Signature, diversity and inclusion.

“I feel so blessed that I had the chance to study at Western Michigan University,” Noori says. “I felt that I really belonged to this University.”

Noori says three words have changed her life: diversity, inclusion and equality. She emphasized her representation, advocacy and support of all three.

“Every person has the value of being a human being, of being included, of being respected regardless of what gender they are, regardless of what race they have, regardless of what their socioeconomic status is,” she says.

Noori called on others to work to eliminate barriers that prevent full participations by some individuals and groups, and encouraged institutions to “help every student learn and know that they belong” by offering them resources and inspiration.

For more WMU News, arts and events, visit WMU News online.