By Oromsis Blogger*
By far and large, the week ending on May 17th, 2009 was the most exhilarating and liberating since the beginning of the year. It all started on Friday night (May 15th) when a group of Oromo students gathered at a crowded one-bed room apartment to recognize fellow-country graduates from the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD).
Until recently, no one thought about Oromo students in a remote and cold place, such as Duluth. However, over the last five years, Oromo students at UMD have created a lively presence around campus through active involvement in multicultural student activities – among other things performing Oromo cultural dances at Kwanza, Soul Food and Fiest of Nations [see videos below].
At about 6pm, alumni, graduates and current Oromo students from UMD, Lake Superior College, the College of St. Scholastica and the University of Wisconsin – Superior, gathered for a farewell reception for the 2009 graduates. Some drove from the Twin Cities and others came from far places like Portland, Oregon. For some of these students, it was a five-year journey that was coming to an end. For others, it was a sad moment as the core and active leaders of the group have concluded their studies.
“No one knows where the road ahead will lead the graduates,” one person noted as he bit into his food. But, I must confess, he continued, “the journey has been extraordinarily great … the bonds that were created among us over the last five years and the times we shared will always be treasured.”
It was indeed a touchy subject. The last five years have been full of struggle, and none of the four graduates would have made it, without the support of the other. They shared rooms, clothes, food, and books and slept at the University hallways together – cramming. They fought over Ramón noodles and sandwiches from McDonald’s Dollar menu. Through their close friendship, they came to be known in the community, at first as the “Duluth Boys” and later when the girls came aboard, as members of WBO-D, an Oromo contraction for Waldaa Baratoota Oromoo Duluth (Oromo Students Association – Duluth), intently chosen for its similarity with a popular name for Oromo Freedom Fighters. And, around campus, as “the Oromos” by their non-Oromo colleagues.
The night culminated around 2am after an earsplitting and joyful bowling competition. In the morning, the graduates went to the commencement hall early. Families of the graduates started arriving thereafter. Everyone was getting ready in what seemed was a spirit of a wedding. At about 11am, six WBO-D members gathered in a parking lot. The two-door Saturn coupe, which they used and abused over the last four years, was not going to fit everyone. So, the decision was to walk to the convention center, where the commencement was to be held.
What at first seemed a pleasant morning with a brisk weather, was soon reversed by the gushing moist winds coming off shore from Lake Superior. The group huddled together to keep each other warm. The guys gave up their jackets for the girls. News came that the convention arena was tightly packed. And, the graduation ceremony was well underway. Upon arrival, the group searched through the crowd for the families of the graduates and gathered in one aisle to make the loudest noise for the well-deserving graduates. Looking down from high above convention center arena, there was a slim chance of spotting their friends. So, they sat patiently awaiting for the names of their friends to be called, flipping through the pages of the booklet to see a name they could recognize.
The commencement ceremony was long and tiring. But when the time came and one of the graduates name was called, the group cheered in uproar. One by one, they screamed, applauded and called out the names of their friends. The long ceremony finally came to close with “Hail Minnesota” song and a message from the UMD Alumni President. The joyful group then started scavenging through the crowd in an effort to find the graduates. It was indeed a hassle to find four people out of about fifteen hundred graduates and their families.
When they finally found their colleagues, some including the graduates, cried tears of joy. They hugged and congratulated each other. One student exclaimed, “You did it!” The other responded, “We did it together!” It was a proud, loud and chaotic moment. No one seemed to have cared that the wind was blowing the caps off the graduates. Everyone was hastily squeezing to take pictures and be part of the historic moment.
And then, it was time to head back to the Twin Cities for separate receptions arranged by the families of the graduates. Upon arrival, the graduates and their friends received a warm welcome at each house they visited. A long night of food, pictures, music, elders’ blessings and messages from community members to graduates, followed.
As the darkness started falling and the party was coming to close, it was announced that all should go home, catch some sleep and rise early for tomorrow’s graduation. The next day, in a reciprocal manner, members of WBO-D called/texted each other and gathered at the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Oromo students at other colleges and universities across the state were present. After yet another long commencement ceremony, another long day of food, music and party trailed.
One of the receptions was held at the Oromo community Center in St.Paul. The graduate, who was the current President of Oromia Youth Association, sat quietly among his friends and other graduates as elders spoke one after the other. Everyone stared at the graduates and his joyous friends in what seemed to convey a message that, “you are the future of this community and your country – Oromia.” Indeed a ubiquitous expectation that was reaffirmed in the elders’ remarks. One elder shouted, “the future of our nation (Oromia) lies on your [the young people’s] hand”. The audience agreed with a loud applause. Everyone, young and old, seemed to have understood that education is the key to success. But I felt that it was an overwhelming responsibility for the graduates.
The grim reality is that this year’s graduation comes at the most challenging time in the U.S history. Our graduates must compete for their fair shares of the shrunken pie – a decent shot at the American dream. And at the same time, they need to live up to the expectations of the community members who attended their recognition ceremony in sheer numbers to celebrate their achievements.
From one reception to another, friends of the graduates followed each other in groups. They ate, joked, recited stories about their college lives, and danced to traditional tunes till darkness reigned.
Warmest congratulations go out to the 2009 Graduates. I hope that the strongest bonds that has been created over the years among our graduates will continue to be stronger and more meaningful. Yes! No matter where the road ahead will take the graduates, the rich memory will be cherished forever. Finally, yes indeed, the future lies in your hands!! And, there are ample reasons for the optimism and higher expectations in this thriving immigrant community.
* The Article was written by Oromsis with a contribution from a member of WBO-D group, one of the 2009 graduates, from the University of Minnesota Duluth. Oromsis blogs at OPride.com
Oromo Students at the University of Minnesota, Duluth Perform at the African Heritage Festival (March 28, 2009)