The Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) hosted its sixth-annual Cultural Recognition Ceremony last Thursday at 6 p.m., commemorating the graduating class of 2024 and student organizations for their achievements.

“I was honored to get to work on this because, honestly, I felt like this would’ve been amazing to have when I was an undergrad here, having that kind of celebration,” said Cecil Hopkins ‘18, the coordinator of the MRC. “I’m glad to be on the other side of it now, providing it for other students.”

The ceremony was held in the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center’s Multipurpose Room, where banquet-style tables were fashioned with green tablecloths and goodie bags prepared at each seat. Metallic silver 2024 balloons hung over the stage above gift boxes concealing trophies awaiting their unveiling. Savory, spiced aromas wafted out from a catered buffet spanning the back wall, where attendees were encouraged to help themselves to dinner as they filtered in.

The ceremony opened with remarks from Leonel Diaz, the director of intercultural affairs, and Karen Jones, the vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Hopkins played a prerecorded video message from New York State Sen. Lea Webb ‘04 elaborating on the theme of “being true to self” as the first woman and person of color to represent the Southern Tier.

“Each one of you has arrived here in this moment despite all odds, and with your own unique perspective shaped by your background, your experiences and your dreams,” Webb said in the video. “It is your duty to take these things into the world and create meaningful change. Our diversity is our strength, and is paramount for us to build a more inclusive and equitable society.”

Over the course of the two-hour-long event, nine different awards were distributed to organizations and individuals. A total of 29 organizations and students had been nominated and voted on through public forms accessible through the MRC’s Instagram account weeks prior. Staff members handed out glass awards designed by the Binghamton-based company House of Trophies to winners as they approached the stage for pictures.

The first three awards of the night were announced by MRC assistant director Richie Sebuharara MS ‘19. The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) took home the Multicultural Pre-Professional Organization of the Year in recognition of their collaborations with companies like Bloomberg and Regeneron, as well as internship opportunities for members to learn more about the responsibilities of E-Board positions by shadowing current officers. Established in 2002, the SHPE chapter’s mission is to create a strong, supportive network for aspiring engineers, scientists and mathematicians through mentorship, networking and programming.

The next award went to La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., for Multicultural Fraternity and Sorority of the Year. The organization was founded in upstate New York and supports underrepresented groups through scholarships for local Binghamton High School students and the Providing Access to Higher Education program. The Beta Chapter embodies the five core values of Fraternity and Sorority Life — unity, respect, scholarship, service and leadership.

The Multicultural Performance Organization of the Year, which recognizes an organization that has demonstrated excellence in arts and culture through their transcendent performances, went to the Quimbamba Latin Dance Team, which has performed at large-scale campus events, including the Sex Carnival and El Polvorín Festival, teaching others about traditional Latin dance styles like tango, merengue and bachata.

The event’s emcee, Nashaan Howard, a senior majoring in psychology, then introduced student speaker Izzie De Jesus ‘21, who is graduating in May with dual master’s degrees in social work and student affairs administration. De Jesus spoke about working with the MRC as a graduate assistant in event planning, which has had “a profound impact on [her] personal development.” She also shared her experiences as a first-generation Latina college student growing up in the Bronx, expressing her gratitude for the family she has made at Binghamton University.

After De Jesus’s speech, Diaz transitioned into the second round of awards — announcing back-to-back wins for Corazoncitos, an organization founded to advocate for socioeconomic issues among Latine and Hispanic individuals in the Greater Binghamton area and beyond through community service and fundraising efforts. They celebrate distinctive Latin American culture and traditions through campus events like El Dia de los Muertos.

Earlier this semester, Corazoncitos organized their first large-scale event Mis Quince con Cora, which was inspired by the cultural rite of passage of the quinceañera and voted on as the Multicultural Program of the Year. They also received the Multicultural Student Organization of the Year award for upholding the three pillars of DEI — identity, unity and excellence.

According to vice president Mariapaz Burbano, a senior double-majoring in political science and sociology, the organization was honored and proud to walk away with two awards as a testament to their work throughout the years.

“As a multicultural student organization, one of our primary goals was to foster inclusivity among all students on campus,” Burbano wrote in an email. “In the past, we have observed that many individuals feel hesitant to join organizations, which is disheartening — therefore, we have made it a priority to ensure our organization is welcoming to everyone, regardless of race, skin color or identity. Thus, these awards further reinforce our commitment to inclusivity and emphasize our mission of continuing to foster this sense of community for all.”

The following part of the program was a speech from keynote speaker Tolupe Odunsi-Nelson ‘12, a professor at the Western New England School of Law who was invited for her engagement with the multicultural community as an advocate for racial justice. Odunsi-Nelson, one of the only Black attorneys in her firm, offered advice to students about embracing their identity, countering discrimination in the workplace and using their diverse perspectives to advantage both themselves and others.

At the end of the speech, graduating seniors in the audience were instructed to line up to receive graduation honor cords — threaded in green, black and silver, each signifying a different aspect of their academic journey. Nicole Sirju-Johnson, the assistant vice president of diversity, called out students’ names as they walked across the stage, foreshadowing the steps they would take at their commencement ceremonies in just over a week.

The final round of awards was bestowed upon one underclassman, senior and graduate student who has demonstrated significant involvement and leadership both on- and off-campus.

Cristaly Alfaro, a junior double-majoring in sociology and Spanish, received The Rising Student of the Year award for her dedication to underrepresented communities as vice president of the BU Association of Mixed Students and a peer counselor for the Educational Opportunity Program.

The Exceptional Graduate Student of the Year went to De Jesus, who Hopkins described as “an important member of the cultural community for her entire [undergraduate] and [graduate] career.” The Outstanding Senior of the Year went to Khalimah Choi-Owens, a senior double-majoring in integrative neuroscience and economics, for her work as the Student Association’s vice president for multicultural affairs. Both have worked closely with the MRC during their time at the University.

As the ceremony was coming to a close, Sirju-Johnson surprised Sebuharara with the final award of the night, Distinguished Diversity Service, for his “tremendous impact” in expanding inclusivity at the University. Sebuharara received a standing ovation from the crowd and was urged into giving an acceptance speech by his colleagues, ending the night with a sentimental goodbye as he would soon be leaving the University after six years with the MRC.

The genuine shock at the news of Sebuharara’s departure reflected Hopkins’ original objective when planning the event — solidifying the diverse cultural community at the University built by love, not blood and shared experiences as first-generation students and or people of color.

“I hope the graduating students felt recognized and acknowledged in the hard work that they have put in to get to where they are now,” Hopkins wrote in an email. “I hope that non-graduating students were able to imagine themselves up on that stage receiving their cord as well, knowing that someone like them can make it all the way through.”