MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Augsburg University is celebrating its graduating class by taking a look back at its past in an effort to impact its future.

In the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Augsburg cancelled classes and hosted “One Day In May” to engage the school and community members about issues related to racism. Now, it’s the focus of this year’s commencement and a call for change in the campus community.

“For almost a month, trying to put across a program that we hope will not end on May 15, 1968,” LaJune Thomas Lange explained.

It was an effort to allow the conversation about racism to move forward. “One Day in May” is a part of Augsburg University’s history many don’t know about.

“That was the movement that kind of forced Augsburg to look at itself and actually question if it’s really living out its mission,” Hana Dinku, director of the Pan African Center, said.

It was a real pivotal moment for Augsburg, one that will be remembered during the university’s 2020’s virtual commencement.

“When we look at the number of students of color we have now, and the beautiful diversity we have now on this campus, we have to remember the significance of one day in May,” Dinku said,

Augsburg’s incoming class will be the most diverse in its 150-year history, a big reason why Dinku felt “One Day in May” needed to be revisited.

“We’re not going to pay $1,200 a year to hear the stuff that is not relevant to us as human beings, because we go to college to further your knowledge, not to be whitewashed,” Lange said.

Voices from 52 years ago have a chilling effect on students now.

“I could just feel her passion and everything that came with it,” Jada Lewis, Augsburg University senior, said.

“Just seeing how resilient those students were, and how they really stepped up and demanded change, and how they really held the administration accountable, it’s really empowering,” Berlynn Bitengo said.

These young trailblazers believe studying the past is almost like looking at a reflection of what is happening today.

Dr. Mahmoud Al Kati was one of the guest speakers during “One Day in May,” and his speeches now echo the words he used decades ago.

“It’s the same thing. It just make you question what has changed, how much has changed? And the questions of how long does it take for institutions to change,” Hinku said.

Change they believe is worth the wait, and it all begins by acknowledging the past.

“Unless we make some very intentional and real institutional changes, I think we will still be, 52 years from now, we’re still going to be asking, ‘Where do we go from here?’” Hinku said.

“One Day in May” will honor two speakers from that day: the Honorable LaJune Thomas Lange and Elder Mahmoud El-Kati. The virtual commencement and viewing of historical video happens May 29 and May 31.

Reg Chapman

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