Donning of the Kente honors excellence, African heritage

As part of the May 17 ceremony, 49 students received a handmade kente cloth that represents the culture and tradition of their African ancestors.

During the ceremony, each graduate received a stole made of kente cloth, a symbol of prestige in many African societies.
Surrounded by classmates, faculty, staff and loved ones who have been a part of their journey at Elon, 49 members of the Class of 2018 took part in the Donning of the Kente Ceremony Thursday night in McKinnon Hall. 

>> See photos from the event

In its second year and sponsored by the Elon Black Alumni Network, the cultural ceremony celebrates the achievements of graduating seniors who recognize their African roots. Each graduate received a stole made of kente cloth, a symbol of prestige in many African societies, handwoven especially for each graduate in a village in Ghana. Graduating students were encouraged to wear the stole at Commencement for inspiration and to honor, celebrate, connect and reflect on their collective heritage and communal struggles and successes. 

“What they have achieved in earning their degree is no small feat. It is worthy of honor, recognition and celebration,” said Shana Winstead ’03, who together with Lamar Lee ’12 serve as events co-chairs for EBAN. “Our hope is that they feel the support of their ‘village.’”

For Adria Gunter, an arts administration and art history double major, the ceremony was an expression of that support and an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of the black community at Elon. “Three years ago,” she said, “I never would have thought I’d call Elon my home, but it is.” Her first year was “pretty rocky,” she said, adding that the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education and the Black Student Union are important first steps for black students to feel welcome and find their path at Elon. “There is this level of kinship that we all mutually share.”

Christopher Edwards agrees. Like Gunter’s journey, the Elon experience of the broadcast and new media double major had its “peaks and valleys” but was also deeply marked by the lifelong friendships he forged within the black community on campus. For him, the ceremony was a stamp on their accomplishments and a celebration of the great opportunities still to come. “Anything is possible,” Edwards said. “We can make a lot of things possible.”

Alexa Broderick '13, an organizer and entrepreneur and the founder of the Equity Paradigm, gave the keynote address.
It was a theme reinfoced throughout the entire ceremony. In her keynote address, Alexa Broderick ’13 reminded the soon-to-be graduates of all the great things they’ve already accomplished—countless academic accolades, internships turned into jobs and dorm ideas into entrepreneurial endeavors. Despite all of this, she added, there is bound to be apprehension about what is to come, anxiety for the responsibilities that will invariably follow. While doubts might start creeping in, Broderick, an organizer and entrepreneur and founder of the Equity Paradigm, assured students they were exactly where they needed to be. To illustrate this point, she shared three things she has learned since graduating from Elon that have kept her focused:

  1. Comparison is the thief of joy. Social media makes it easy for people to create a perfect version of our lives, a version that only portrays the narrative we want to present, she said. Comparing our ups and downs against such highlight reels, she said, is pointless. “Your path is yours and no one else’s.”
  2. Happiness is a choice you make every day. Yes, life is full of disappointments but how we deal with them is entirely up to us, she said. “Choose to remind yourself that you are worthy, regardless of the circumstances.”
  3. The secret to success is failure. We’ve been conditioned to avoid failure at all cost, she said, but it’s only through that process that we can grow, change and attain a fresh perspective. “Let yourself unapologetically fail.”

“Walk boldly in your path,” Broderick added. “Celebrate the highs and learn from the lows, because at the end of the day, you are still young, gifted and black,” referencing Nina Simone’s lyrics.

The ceremony featured a drum dance performed by students who participated in the 2018 Winter Term study abroad course in Ghana.
In closing the ceremony, which also featured a drum dance performed by students who participated in the 2018 Winter Term study abroad course in Ghana, Associate Professor of Psychology Buffie Longmire-Avital shared insights from her own struggles growing up in a poor neighborhood with her single mother, in the shadows of the ivory towers of a nearby ivy league institution.

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned to walk with out having feet,” she said quoting one of Tupac Shakur’s poems. “Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.”

Like the rose in the poem, Longmire-Avital said, blacks have been fighting to break concrete barriers imposed upon them for generations. The good news, she added, is that roses don’t grow in isolation: they have strong roots that grow into mighty bushes. “In this room tonight, I see a strong bush of roses,” she said. “Your roots have been reinforced and deeply dug into Elon. … Long live the rose that grows at Elon.”

Donning of the Kente Honorees

  • Maxwell Akoto
  • JeNaye Alston
  • Victoria Atkinson
  • Kellcee Batchelor
  • Nicole Baugh
  • Mariah Bishop
  • Jared Bishop
  • Kaylyn Brock
  • Taylor Brock
  • Sydney Brown
  • Shaylen Burnett
  • Xena Burwell
  • Alonzo Cee
  • Bernadette Cooper
  • Ashley Davis
  • Christopher Edwards
  • Kiera Ervin
  • Daniel Everett
  • Mylia Garner
  • Adria Gunter
  • Bryanna Hames
  • William Henderson
  • Johnathan Jackson
  • Avery Jamison
  • Malaya Johnson
  • Reginald Johnson
  • Grant Jones
  • Travis Jones
  • Lethon Jordan
  • Tatyana Louis
  • Jordon McRae
  • Victoria Parrish
  • Brianna Powell
  • Contia’ Prince
  • Erica Richmond
  • Kara Rollock
  • Byron Ross
  • Kevin Sample
  • Cierra Seawright
  • Donita Sharkey
  • Elezcia Singletary
  • Aneesha Smith
  • Maurice Tosé
  • Shelby Valeriano
  • Arielle Watkins
  • Sean Webber
  • Erin Wilkins
  • Alexis Williams
  • Janae Williams