Class of 2020 graduates return to Elon to celebrate African heritage with Donning of the Kente ceremony

Twenty-eight members of Class of 2020 were honored during the annual cultural ceremony held on Saturday, Sept. 4.

Black alumni from the Class of 2020 made their way back to Elon to celebrate their African heritage during the annual Donning of the Kente Ceremony.

The Donning of the Kente serves as a cultural ceremony that celebrates the achievements of Elon’s graduating students who recognize their African roots. On Saturday, 28 students were presented with a stole made of kente cloth that they will wear during graduation.

“Today, each graduate will be adorned with a handmade kente cloth, which represents the culture, spirituality, sophistication and immaculate tradition of our ancestors,” Vice President and Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence Randy Williams said during his opening remarks. “The donning is meant to be a positive and memorable experience that rewards our graduates and their families with a more personal and culturally relevant ceremony.”

The stole that each graduate received is an Akan Kente handwoven in a village located in Bonwire, Ghana. The kente cloth symbolizes and celebrates prestige in many African societies. The origins of the kente cloth date back to 12th century Africa, in the country of Ghana worn by royalty during ceremonial events.

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.

“In the pursuit of excellence, many members of the Elon community have led the way by offering guidance and support for members for the Class of 2020 throughout this journey,” Williams said.

Along with the stole, each graduate was presented with an official alumni pin by a member of the Elon Black Alumni Network (EBAN).

“The Elon Black Alumni Network seeks to unite and represent the interests of Black alumni and strives to empower, connect and celebrate Elon’s Black community,” said Aliana Harrison, immediate past president of the EBAN.

The Donning of the Kente is one of EBAN’s chief initiatives, Harrison said, which seeks to recognize the academic, professional and personal achievement of the graduates. During her remarks, Harrison displayed a symbol on screens for the audience to observe.

“This symbol is called ‘Eban,’ which translates to ‘fence’ and reflects a symbol of love, safety and security. These are three words that I want you, as graduates, to remember as you continue your journey as a member of the Elon Black Alumni Network.”

Harrison spoke on behalf of the more than 2,000 Black alumni of the pride they have in the Class of 2020 for having to endure so much following graduation amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social and racial unrest.

“We are so proud and want you to know the Elon Black Alumni Network is here for you and will continue to serve as a home base to each of you for years to come,” she said.

Each graduate had a prepared statement written on their behalf by either a family member or faculty member of their choosing. The faculty readers of those statements were Buffie Longmire-Avital, associate professor of psychology, George Talbert, assistant professor of marketing and Naeemah Clark, professor of cinema and television arts.

Longmire-Avital provided the closing remarks before students and family proceed to Lake Mary Nell for the Class of 2020 tailgate. Longmire-Avital said that the graduates honored during the donning ceremony are not the same graduates as they were 18 months ago. “You sit in this space with knowledge of what the post-Elon world is,” Longmire-Avital said.

She provided the graduates with a story of her past, of when she was on her way to attend her freshman year of preparatory boarding school. She was excited and ready to go away from home for her education.

Soon before leaving, her mother told her that “she could always come home.” Longmire-Avital said at first, she was angry with her mother for planting any seeds of doubt for this journey she was about to embark on, a journey her mother helped begin.

“I didn’t realize it then, but I fully embrace it now,” she said. “My mother didn’t give me doubt, she gave me assurance that wherever the journey, the grind, the hustle takes me, I could always come home.”

She passed along the sentiment that coming home is never “an invitation to quit or to stop,” but that it’s always an offering of rest and renewal.  “We were all forced to go home and 2020 became an embodiment of Langston Hughes’ ‘A Dream Deferred.’” Despite this, she urged the graduates to continue to dream, continue to make their voices heard and continue pushing toward tomorrow.

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“If I may share this small nugget of fact – dreams may be deferred, but the ability to dream may not be. Graduates, never forget that, yes, you are America, and you too are Elon. An Ebony Phoenix who rises to follow their dreams and flies high enough to always see your Elon home in the horizon,” Longmire-Avital said. “Congratulations Class of 2020. Or should I say, welcome home.”

Graduates recognized during the ceremony were:

Alexa Baer
Sydney Biggs
Rachel Brown
Mikisha Davis
Amber Daye
Jaylan Evans
Frederick Evans Jr.
Olivia Ford
Shawná Harris-Lenoir
Megan Hernandez-Greene
Chantrisse Howard
Janaya Jones
Holly Miranda
Sara Nderitu
Arianna Payne
Jessica Perry
Chandler Posey
Lumiere Rostick
Sydney Simmons
Sha’Leicia Simpson
Tyler Stanley
Jordan Vaughn
Imani Vincent
Jordan Williams
Lallo Yadeta
Olivia Murphy
Xavier Bryant

La’Shaundranique Marshall