There’s no denying the fact that a black student’s university experience is different from that of any other student. Not just in post-apartheid South Africa, but across the globe too. Granted, white students also face certain challenges, which cannot be trivialised. But from the day a black student registers in first year, they sign up to fight a system that was never created for their comfort and success. Even so, we pull through and graduate against the odds. Over and over again. And this is why we sing, laugh and cry when black students graduate. This is why we should never stop celebrating the success of black students, like the recent graduates below whose stories in particular have moved me.

For a black student, getting a degree is a tumultuous journey that feels like walking barefoot on scorching tar, while your white classmates appear to amble on next to you in comfy trainers. Whether you come from a low-income, middle-income or upper-middle income family, you still enter higher education institutions with the heavy load of inherited historical debt and an apartheid legacy which shifted the goalposts of success for black youths. You move into res with it, you carry it around campus with you in your satchel, and sometimes it even blocks your view in lecture theatres. It’s always there.

This is not to say we don’t make fond memories and learn valuable lessons in varsity, but every small victory comes with its own set of politics.

From racially biased lecturers/tutors, to anti-black university administration that financially excludes academically sound students, to having to drop out to take care of family after a bereavement, to literally dodging bullets on campus, the brown child still has to sweat harder for the same reward, or at least something resembling it.

Speaking of sweating harder for the same reward, I’m reminded of a small incident during my varsity days which both angered and amused me. I had a class buddy, as one usually does, to tag-team missed lectures and tutorials, and this one Monday we both happened to miss our tutorials. My buddy (who is white) missed the tutorial because she broke up with her boyfriend and I missed mine because of my severe dysmenorrhoea. Guess who was immediately granted an LOA (leave of absence) by the department and guess who had to fight?


I’m not here to share the details of every injustice faced by every single student of colour at every university in this country, whether it be a molehill or a mountain – you’ve seen the stats for yourself and you’ve read the news. I’m here to reiterate why graduation season is a most auspicious occasion in our country especially: it’s a realisation and actualisation of our grandparents’ and parents’ dreams and hard work. Also, consider this an explanation of why our graduation looks are so important to us that our parents or guardians willingly buy us the best threads and inches for us get capped in – it’s because they know that getting a degree is ‘not child’s play‘ as they would so sternly say in the English they improved vicariously through us by paying for our education.

Read more: 12 Graduates With Perfectly Celebratory Outfits

So over the past few weeks we’ve been cheering, yaaasssing, liking and even clutching our chests emotionally every time a graduate posts their celebratory pictures with well thought out captions – some whip-smart and others purely inspirational. Without a doubt, looks were served, but what stood out most were the following stories, which again serve as a reminder of why we should never stop celebrating black graduates.

1. First graduate in the family

In 2016, the Mail & Guardian reported that ‘the number of black graduates being produced each year had more than quadrupled, from about 11 339 (in 1994) to 20 513 (in 2004) and 48 686 graduates (in 2014).’ What this represented was the fact that ‘black youths are more likely to get degrees now than they were [over] 10 years ago.’

This is the reason why today we have graduates who are the first in their family to graduate, much like Twitter users @Snashy_mhlongo and @Lazie_i below:

2. A second chance

As I mentioned earlier, some students have had to make sacrifices and drop out of  university. But eventually their sacrifices are made up for in some way or another. This is one such story:

3. The first of your kind

When Oprah Winfrey opened her Leadership Academy for Girls in 2007, she created hundreds of opportunities for previously disadvantaged South African girls to have the fairytale endings they deserve. Fast-forward to 11 years later and OWLAG alumnus Lindiwe Tsope celebrates the milestone of being the first student from the academy to pursue a PhD degree.

4. Battling mental illness and overcoming

Mental wellbeing is a major concern in our higher education institutions. The DailyVox reported that ‘according to the World Health Organisation, mental illness will be one of the leading causes of disability worldwide by 2030, with suicide being the second leading cause of death amongst university students. The same report also rated South Africa to have the eighth highest rate of suicide in the world.’ We know this to be true because at least once a year, students lose a fellow classmate or res mate to suicide. But sometimes we can be grateful for silver linings when students are able to overcome and graduate:

5. Winning despite the odds

Pursuing a degree with a disability did not deter cancer survivor Mpho Nyane from completing her studies, even when a lecturer advised her otherwise.

6. Own pace. Own race.

Sometimes it takes a little longer. And that’s okay.

This is why we must never stop celebrating black graduates. Congratulations again to the class of 2017. Wishing you plenty of internship and job offers.