I am my ancestors wildest dreams: graduation as a symbol

Graduation is symbolic. It’s a milestone in any person’s life that chooses to go through academia at any stage in their journey. It’s also a privilege, it’s a privilege for all of us globally whom have access to education and can choose whether or not to go through the academic route in our careers to begin with. The choice itself is a privilege. I think we should also acknowledge that within this privilege there are nuances and it’s not so ‘clear cut’ and accessible to all of us as it may seem, especially in geopolitical terms.


It has been over a week since my graduation ceremony and I’m still processing the past events of July. I feel as though events such as this one, are especially significant moments with family happen too quickly for my own brain to process and all the emotions I feel at the time hit me afterwards. Once it all sinks in, once it’s over and I deal with the aftermath. Any moment that is a proud moment for my father and for my family.  In the context of my educational journey, is in turn, a proud moment for me; even going back to the small certificates I used to get from primary school on my attendance and hard work.  I still remember running home to hand them to my family, their pride has always been very important to me. Disappointment, on the other hand, since a very young age has been a real fear. I have always been hyperaware of disappointment, I made sure ‘I worked twice as hard and focused on my own work and not on what others were doing’, which was the advice or mantra that was drummed into me. Gradually, in my growth I’ve come to realise that I can’t control what happens around me or the emotions of others, even when I do my best.  I can only control how I react and how I feel about my own actions or what happens around me. The absence of disappointment from others in life, in general, is a myth and fearing what will eventually happen is of no benefit to me or to anyone. If anything, I have learnt to focus my lens on not disappointing myself and knowing my own self-worth and to be proud of myself and of my own achievements.  This has been one of the many lessons learnt towards the end of my degree.


Through my ambivalence and uncertainty on participating in my graduation ceremony, there were moments when I didn’t feel like participating at all and not attending. Due to issues at Camberwell College, my own experiences there, the hardships, the obstacles, the people I wanted to graduate with were unable to attend and most significantly the Shades of Noir team were graduating on other days at their own colleges from UAL.  The cost of a graduation ceremony I don’t agree with and further compounds place and space for privileges and the privileged. Yet, despite my initial feelings and some I still continue to feel today, I attended and participated in my graduation ceremony. It was important that I did.  It was my duty to do so, because whilst graduation may carry these connotations to me personally and to my beliefs, I also believe it to be symbolic. It’s symbolic in meaning on a personal level and in a wider political and social context.


On a personal level, for myself it signifies that I achieved something I believed that I couldn’t.  I therefore dismantled ingrained beliefs I carried in me for a long time on lack of self-worth, self-belief, self-esteem and low confidence. Whilst I am still on my journey, within the last year, I made significant progress in ‘unlearning’ (for lack of a better term) these beliefs and find myself on a journey of fulfilling my true potential. I had to go and own that moment, for myself. This is also a very proud and emotional moment for my family.  What it means to them, to see my grandmother live to see the day I graduate with tears in her eyes reminded me of Ava DuVernay’s instagram post where she wore a t-shirt that said: ‘I am my ancestors wildest dreams’.  Being an only child to my parents and the first generation to go to university and graduate in the family was a special moment for both sides of my family to witness and be part of.  It will motivate my younger sister to also one day graduate too. After seeing me walk across the stage at the ceremony, she mentioned that she hopes to also to do the same one day. Which leads me onto the symbolic image of graduation on a wider political and social context, in particular on the younger generation, I believe from reflecting on my younger sister’s thoughts, that it motivates the younger generation that come from my background in particular. University is something I had also thought of, but I couldn’t really envision myself going here in the UK.  These sort of ceremonies I had only ever really seen in American movies, I had never attended one or seen one in real life, so it all seemed intangible and fictional to me, until I saw other friends and extended family members pictures and their images in their robes graduating it became more realistic and attainable, something I too one day could actually experience.


Ultimately, graduation as a symbol may not be a shared belief by everyone, but I’m glad I attended and went through with graduation alongside my family. Education and knowledge are not the same thing. I believe that through education we gain significant access to knowledge.  For a long time and still to this day I have qualms with academia and it’s elitism, however working with Shades of Noir has allowed me to explore and question all of these ideas and has consistently motivated me to continue to fight for social justice and find new ways to make the inaccessible accessible.

‘‘It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love each other and support each other.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.”


Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography