Life Sciences alumna creates McMaster’s first yearbook for graduating Black students

Melinda Meleki holding the cover of a yearbook up and smiling at the camera

Life Sciences graduate Melinda Meleki created McMaster’s first ever yearbook for graduating Black students (Photo by Jay Robb/McMaster University)

Melinda Meleki was beyond busy but determined to give a parting gift to graduating Black students. 

Her final term as a life sciences student was jammed with group work — “the semester was trying hard to take me out.” She also needed to line up a full-time job and find somewhere to live after her landlord sold the place she’d been renting. 

Despite the pressing and converging deadlines, Meleki added another — McMaster’s first ever yearbook for graduating Black students. She aimed to publish the yearbook in time for the 3rd Annual Black Excellence Graduation Ceremony on May 23. She had about eight weeks to make it happen. 

The Class of 2024 had been through a lot and Meleki wanted a way to commemorate the challenges they overcame, the victories they achieved and the memories they made at McMaster. 

It had been an especially challenging start for international students like Meleki. COVID had converted her childhood bedroom into a campus. That makeshift campus was 12,000 kilometres away from McMaster in Zambia. The South-Central African country’s also six hours ahead which meant classes started mid-afternoon with more than a few midnight exams. That was a tough adjustment for an early riser like Meleki — high school had started at 7:10 a.m. which meant rolling out of bed at 5:30 a.m. And she was logged on for lectures while her family headed out to celebrate public holidays — there are 12 in Zambia. “I missed a lot of barbecues.” 

But Black students made up for lost time and did some amazing things once they were back on campus, says Meleki. There were lots of great moments and memories, a spirit of resilience and a sense of community that she wanted to capture. She drew inspiration from the family photo albums her mom would invite company to leaf through while she went into the kitchen to make tea. 

Meleki pitched the yearbook idea on April Fool’s Day to Faith Ogunkoya, the manager of the Black Student Success Centre. The centre’s adopted the philosophy and pedagogy of Ubuntu, with its emphasis on collective empowerment and collaborative approach to student success.  

Ogunkoya immediately saw the potential for the yearbook to be an essential archive for Black students that could foster a sense of belonging and pride. She asked Meleki to work up a project plan. While lots of students have big ideas, few take the next step. But Meleki wasn’t like most students. She returned to the centre with a detailed proposal and confirmed what Ogunkoya already knew about the yearbook’s creator and editor-in-chief. “Melinda doesn’t just dream big — she meticulously plans and works tirelessly to turn those dreams into reality. She combines a visionary mindset with a pragmatic approach — that’s a rare and powerful combination.” 

Meleki in turn says there wouldn’t have been a yearbook without the support of the Black Student Success Centre and champions like Ogunkoya who gave that all-important and early vote of confidence. 

Meleki recruited a crew of two dozen volunteers to help put together the yearbook. “I’ve been told that I’m very persuasive.” They set up a temporary photo studio in the corner of the Black Student Success Centre and put the word out. Students were encouraged to bring props and be their authentic selves in front of the camera — so no staring off into the middle distance with frozen smiles while wearing graduation gowns and cradling bouquets of roses.  Students would show up for their photo shoot and then stick around. It was like Meleki was back home with a full house of company. “I loved the energy.” 

The team met their end-of-May deadline thanks to what Meleki calls a combination of, “dreams, prayers and good vibes.” 

Ogunkoya adds it was a testament to passion meeting dedication. She says seeing the finished yearbook for the first time was a profoundly moving experience. “It was more than just a collection of pages — it was a beautiful tapestry of the Black student community’s stories, achievements and resilience. Each page reflected the essence of our students’ journeys and the collective spirit of the Black Student Success Centre. The yearbook documented the Black joy present within our community, the mutual support among students and the significance of every idea and contribution.” 

Meleki’s now updating the yearbook to include photos from the Black Excellence Graduation Ceremony. While it’s a digital book, there’ve been requests for printed copies. An editor-in-chief is already lined up to put together next year’s edition for the Class of 2025. 

An image of a yearbook cover that features a cartoon bear in a graduation cap and gown being shot out of a misshapen globe. Text on the cover reads, ‘Black Student Yearbook - 2024’ and features the logo of McMaster’s Black Student Success Centre.
Meleki created the cover with a nod to the artwork for Kayne West’s Graduation album.

Meleki managed to meet her other deadlines. She completed all her group projects and graduated with her family in the audience after a 24-hour flight. She’s working as a research and administrative assistant with Hamilton Health Sciences and living in a new apartment. 

She’s also thinking about what’s next. The yearbook project rekindled her artistic side — she created the cover with a nod to the artwork for Kayne West’s Graduation album. She’d dropped art classes in Grade 10 after getting a less than stellar mark. Meleki’s parents were worried art classes would drag down her average and jeopardize her shot at a Canadian university. She’s now thinking of combining her science degree and love for art to pursue a career in science illustration.  

Whatever path she chooses, Ogunkoya predicts a bright future for Meleki. “She’s a remarkable example of what can be achieved through determination and a strong sense of purpose.” And a near superhuman ability to work to multiple deadlines. 

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