Class of 2022 celebrates African roots at sixth annual Donning of the Kente ceremony

Black students in the Class of 2022 were honored in the annual cultural ceremony.

Illuminated with red, yellow and green lights – the colors of Pan-Africanism – and filled with the constant rhythm of djembe drums, laughter and applause, Alumni Gym was the scene for the sixth annual Donning of the Kente ceremony at Elon University on Thursday, May 19.

The Donning of the Kente serves as a cultural ceremony that celebrates the achievements of Elon’s Black graduating students who recognize their African roots. The soon-to-be graduates stood in front of their classmates as they received words of encouragement, support and love from someone special in their life and received their handmade kente cloth graduation stole.

“The donning is meant to be a positive and memorable experience that rewards students and their families with a personal and culturally relevant ceremony,” said Randy Williams, vice president and associate provost for inclusive excellence and associate professor of education. “To that end, I encourage you to shout tears of joy, stamp your feet with praises and display all expressions of celebration for our graduates this evening.”

Jaelyn Alexander ‘22, a BFA music theatre graduate, said it was an incredible honor to be a part of the Donning of the Kente ceremony with such powerful displays of love. “I have never seen a ceremony at Elon so vulnerable and full of so much love,” Alexander said. “There are not many opportunities we get to publicly recognize people that we care about that have impacted us. I don’t know everyone here, but every single speech was very touching and inspirational.”

Each graduate was adorned with a handwoven kente cloth from a village in Bonwire, Ghana. The kente cloth symbolizes and celebrates prestige in many African societies. The origins of the kente cloth date back to the 12th century when it was worn by kings, queens and prominent figures of state during ceremonial events and special occasions in Ghanaian society.

In a cultural context, the kente serves as a visual representation of African history, philosophy, ethics, social code of conduct and aesthetic principles.

“As you walk out these doors wearing your kente stool and drape it over your shoulders again during Commencement, remember that your stole is a symbol of the shelter that at least one person constructed for you and it is an invitation to be embraced by an expansive community of alumni, faculty, staff, family and friends that spans decades, struggles, resistance and hope,” Buffie Longmire-Avital, director of the Black Lumen Project and associate professor of psychology, said during her closing remarks.

“We built this city on the audacious pursuit and promise of safety. Graduates of 2022, unapologetically seek out and claim your space with the assurance that this Elon shelter of safety, throughout all storms, will ever endure,” she said.

Akilah Weaver ‘00, president of the Elon Black Alumni Network (EBAN) and benefits executive with Bank of America, displayed a symbol on the screen and explained its significance to the Class of 2022 kente recipients.

“This symbol is called ‘Eban,’ which translates to fence, and reflects a symbol of love, safety and security. EBAN is a place where you can feel safe, affirmed, validated and at home,” Weaver said. “As you begin your journey in the world as a Black scholar, know that your patience will be tried, your intelligence will be tested, your character will be attacked and your blackness may even be questioned. But stay true to self, enjoy life, task risks, be different, … be bold. You are Black excellence.”

Jazmin Campbell ‘22, graduating with a degree in anthropology and creative writing, will spend a year with Alamance Achieves as a part of the Elon Year of Service Fellows program. At the Donning of the Kente, gratitude was the main emotion Campbell felt — gratitude for the people who have directly impacted her and the overarching Black community and network that she is now a lifetime member of.

“Having one of my mentors, Kiah Glenn (former assistant director of the CREDE at Elon) to speak about me and give me my stole was an honor. I cannot describe my gratitude and love for her,” Campbell said. “I am so grateful to these people and this place for building me. I can’t describe how grateful I am for them.”