McMaster Latin American/Latinx community makes history with first graduation and celebration ceremony

14 people standing on a stage smiling at the camera. All but one are wearing convocation stoles.

Recent graduates, award winners and proud members of the Latin American/Latinx community at McMaster were celebrated for their accomplishments at the inaugural Latin American/Latinx Celebration and Graduation Ceremony. (All photos by Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University).

Students, staff, faculty and their loved ones packed the Phoenix on campus this week to mark the inaugural Latin American/Latinx Celebration and Graduation Ceremony. 

The words of McMaster Bachelor of Health Sciences graduate Ariana Petrazzini captured the historic feeling in the room: “Paving the way only matters if there are those to follow.”  

Her words gave a nod to the many achievements of the Latin American Network at McMaster (LANMU) faculty in the room, whose work serves as a foundation for the quickly growing list of accomplishments by the network’s students and graduates.  

Established in the summer of 2021, LANMU aims to celebrate, recognize and empower its members, increase student access, provide academic support and promote research excellence. 

The joyous ceremony served as a celebration for LANMU members who had recently earned degrees and awards, and faculty for their demonstrated research excellence. 

Here are a few highlights from the event:  

Rows of people seated. The first row of people are smiling at looking at the camera.

It was a packed house at the Phoenix as loved ones and supporters of students gathered to celebrate in what’s believed to be the first ceremony of its kind in Canada.  

And if the thunderous applause that punctuated the ceremony is any indication, this community is very, very proud.  

Three photos side-by-side. The first two each show someone placing a stole on another person's shoulders. The final photo shows two people embracing.

In another historic first, students who were recently awarded their McMaster degrees were gifted Latin American convocation stoles. 

Faculty members were on hand to present the stoles to students during the ceremony. 

(Above, from left to right) Associate Professor Maureen Lagos presents a stole to Master’s in Health and Aging graduate María Belén Miguel, Professor Elena Verdú presents a stole to undergraduate medical degree graduate Millaray Freire-Archer, and postdoctoral fellow and LANMU co-founder Stacy Ann Creech de Castro receives a hug from her PhD supervisor Professor Eugenia Zuroski. 

One woman speaking into a microphone at a podium. There is a man standing beside her.

Ian-Carlo Morales-Nunez and Paula Sheron Queiroz, the first and second students to graduate from McMaster’s Interdisciplinary Minor in Latin American and Latinx studies, spoke about the impact it had on them and their undergraduate journeys. 

Morales-Nunez, whose family is originally from Mexico, shared how he had difficulty growing up with what he called a “dual identity” of being both Latinx and Canadian.  

He said the minor gave him a new insight into these identities.  

“Instead of prioritizing one over the other, I learned to embrace them,” he said.  

Sheron Queiroz expressed her thanks to LANMU co-founders Rodrigo Narro Pérez and Stacy Ann Creech de Castro.  

“Thank you to LANMU for providing the space for Latinx students to grow and develop academically, as well as socially,” she said.   

One person speaking into a microphone at a podium. Two other people are standing behind them.
(From left to right) Andrés Felipe Fajardo, Millaray Freire-Archer and Ariana Petrazzini.

Three students who are working towards careers in healthcare shared how they hope to help underserved patients, and in particular, their own Latin American/Latinx communities. 

Pediatrics residency graduate Andrés Felipe Fajardo, undergraduate medical program graduate Millaray Freire-Archer, and Bachelor of Health Sciences graduate Ariana Petrazzini each shared their intentions to serve their patients and to give a voice to those in need.  

A woman smiling while speaking into a microphone at a podium. There are two people standing beside her.
(From left to right) Karla Martínez Pomier, Daniel Yanes Alvarenga and Elizabeth Arango Ruda

Three recent award winners — PhD candidates Karla Martínez Pomier and Elizabeth Arango Ruda, and undergraduate student Daniel Yanes Alvarenga — were celebrated during the ceremony. 

“It means the world to me to be standing here and to be recognized,” said Martínez Pomier, who is Black, grew up in Havana, Cuba and uses the term Afro-Latina to describe herself. “I don’t see a lot of people who look like me getting recognized.”  

Four people standing and smiling at the camera. They all have grey convocation stoles around their shoulders.

Professor José Moran-Mirabal, Deputy Provost Matheus Grasselli, Associate Professor Maureen Lagos and Professor Elena Verdú were among the faculty members in attendance.  

LANMU co-founder Rodrigo Narro Pérez called the network a “labour of community,” and thanked LANMU faculty for offering their academic and professional support, and advocacy for McMaster students.  

A man in a blue blazer speaking into a microphone to a crowd of people seated.

Narro Pérez reminded the crowd that the Latinx diaspora is one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in Hamilton, Ontario.  

“But what does it mean to be Latin American? It’s a complicated question with a complicated answer,” said Narro Pérez. 

It’s a question McMaster students can explore through the Interdisciplinary Minor in Latin American and Latinx Studies, and LANMU initiatives like the student mentorship program, the Latin American Health Science Student Success Initiative and Poderosas Circle (a resource and support for Latina/e/x womxn).  

Events like this one serve to inspire these students, and future generations, says Narro Pérez.  

“Research continuously shows that students from equity deserving groups, especially Black, Indigenous and Latinx students, will aspire to pursue an undergraduate degree (as well as graduate school) if they see themselves both represented at universities and in their teachers,” says Narro Pérez.  

Now with the inaugural Latin American/Latinx Celebration and Graduation Ceremony in the books, the way has been paved for future iterations, says Narro Pérez.  

“We hope, in the coming years, that our membership will grow and overflow off this stage.”  

To learn more about LANMU and its members, visit their website. 

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