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Elon Law hosts inaugural Kente Stole Donning Ceremony

Members of the Black Law Students Association and their families commemorated the achievements of graduating students who recognize their African roots in a cultural ceremony the day before Commencement for Elon Law’s Class of December 2017.

An emotional ceremony filled with just as many smiles as tears brought together Elon Law’s African-American students and their families in a cultural celebration on the eve of their graduation from law school.

The inaugural Kente Stole Donning Ceremony hosted by the Black Law Students Association on December 15, 2017, marked the first time such a program was held at Elon Law’s downtown Greensboro campus.

The new tradition was introduced as Elon Law prepared to graduate its most diverse cohort in school history, with two dozen African-American students and other self-identified students of color who, collectively, make up more than a quarter of the class.

“In this space, in this law school, we really want African-American students to feel acknowledged and that their culture is recognized,” said Tiffany Atkins L’11, a Legal Method and Communication Fellow and adviser to the Black Law Student Association, who worked with Director of Student Life Stacie Dooley to organize the program. “This ceremony shows that representation matters.”

The kente cloth symbolizes and celebrates prestige in many African societies. Its origins date to 12th century Ghana where the cloth was worn by kings, queens and important figures of state in Ghanaian society, during ceremonial events and special occasions. In a cultural context, it is a visual representation of African history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature, moral values, social code of conduct, religious beliefs, political thought and aesthetic principles.

Each graduate receives a stole made of kente cloth imported from West Africa. Students have the opportunity to select someone - whether a mentor, professor or family member - to present their kente cloth, acknowledging their hard work and encouraging them in future endeavors.

Graduating students wore the cloth, which was embroidered with the BLSA acronym, at Commencement the following day. “The stole has a cultural design on it to resemble the African culture,” said Shanelle Edmonds, co-president of BLSA with Tiffany Fitzgerald and a member of the Class of December 2017. “It's a sense of knowing where you came from to know where you are going and know you will always have the love and support of your people, family, and friends.

“There was a moment in time where African Americans could not receive education let alone get a professional degree, so this stole represents love, culture, family, support, achievement, and connections.”

The program featured a welcome by Professor George Johnson and remarks by Associate Dean Faith Rivers James, who encouraged the students to find mentors now in the legal profession who will be dedicated to their future success.

“Donned with your kente, I implore you to stand tall. Stand tall like a tree in the garden of justice,” Rivers James said. “And as a tree in the garden of justice, you will need outstretched branches to support you. Every successful lawyer must have someone who cares enough about their future to tell them about their present performance.”

Eleven students also made news in the weeks leading up to Commencement when graduation portraits featuring the group went viral on social media. Prominent websites like Yahoo! reported on their law school success, and regional television news media invited the students onto their sets for live interviews. 

“This ceremony means the world,” said Aarin Miles, a member of the Class of December 2017. “To stand with a group that has worked so hard means a lot. Elon Law is working to be a pioneer in change … and I hope this tradition continues.”

Eric Townsend,
12/20/2017 3:30 PM