Encouraged to “be brave for who you will become,” African-American students in Elon Law’s Class of 2018 were celebrated by family, friends, faculty and staff in a kente-donning program preceding Commencement.
A Commencement weekend program to celebrate the achievements and promise of African-American graduates in Elon Law’s Class of 2018 also brought with it words of wisdom meant to guide them on their journey into the legal profession.
Graduates were reminded to take heed and “have faith in who you are becoming,” while being brave for that future self and not fearing new opportunities.
And who better to proffer that wisdom than Tiffany Atkins L’11, an Elon Law alumna who also questioned her worth as a student before realizing that she did, in fact, deserve the opportunities to succeed as an accomplished attorney and educator?
Elon Law’s second annual Donning of the Kente Ceremony on Dec. 14, 2018, brought together the 19 graduates, their friends and family, and law school faculty and staff for a program that brimmed with tears and laughter. Atkins delivered keynote remarks inspired by former First Lady Michelle Obama’s bestselling book “Becoming.”
More than anything, Atkins said, graduates should remind themselves as often as necessary that their feelings of doubt and uncertainty “can demoralize you and rock you to your core, if you allow them to.” Instead, she said, remember the courage and fortitude they have already demonstrated throughout their lives in overcoming past obstacles.
And tell yourself every day that “I can do this.”
“‘I am here because I earned it. Because I am gifted. Because I was made for this,’” said Atkins, a visiting assistant professor at Wake Forest University School of Law and a former Legal Method and Communication Fellow at Elon Law. “We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams. In the belly of a ship. On a plantation. On the wrong end of a hose. We are who they fought for. And we all have to walk with that awareness and knowledge that we were made for this.”
The kente program featured a welcome by Dean Emeritus and Professor George R. Johnson Jr., and additional words of encouragement from Professor Catherine Dunham and Janean B. Dunn L’15, who serves as advisor to the Black Law Students Association.
“This ceremony celebrates your achievements, Elon Law students of color, and it pays special tribute to the many people who have supported you and contributed to your arriving at this moment,” Johnson said. “As you prepare formally to enter the profession and community of lawyers, this ceremony, we hope, reminds you and us that you are already members of a vital, nurturing community, and that you have an obligation to continue to sustain and strengthen them.”
After Atkins’ address, each graduate received a stole made of kente cloth imported from West Africa. They 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.
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.
Graduating students wore the cloth, which was embroidered with the BLSA acronym, at Commencement the following day.
“To the class of 2018, congratulations again on this tremendous accomplishment,” Dunn said. “Earning your juris doctor degree is not an easy feat. It is something that many people strive for and very few people achieve. I hope over the course of this weekend as we continue with graduation activities, that each of you take some time to reflect on all of the hard work, the time and the effort you have spent to reach this moment.
“I am truly inspired by your passion for the law, your gifts, and your talents. I am confident that as you walk across the stage tomorrow, you are going to make a tremendous impact on the legal profession and on our community.”