Over fifty Black Elon University undergraduate students entered Alumni Gym on May 20 to take part in the Donning of the Kente Ceremony, wearing not only their caps and gowns, but also their heritage.
As part of the cultural celebration, which is sponsored by the Office of Alumni Engagement, the Elon Black Alumni Network and the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education, each senior received a stole made of kente cloth handwoven in a Ghanian village. This cloth, not only a representation and celebration of prestige within African societies, is also a visual representation of African histories, morals, values and principles.
Students were welcomed by their physically distanced families, friends and mentors spread out in Alumni Gym. Many attendees shed tears as university staff shared memories and words of encouragement for each graduate.
For senior Kevin Lacey, the ceremony is an opportunity to honor the collective accomplishments of Black students at Elon, which is especially meaningful after a year of challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was such a great experience, especially being a Black student at a PWI,” Lacey said. “It was just so great to be a collective Black community and celebrate this awesome achievement and be reminded of our heritage and our ancestors, where they came from.”
Keynote speaker and one of the founders of the inaugural ceremony Kennedy Ojimadu ‘17 felt that there was a lack of opportunity to celebrate the cultural diversity of Black students at a predominantly white institution like Elon. After researching schools across the nation, he along with other founders, discovered the Donning of the Kente Celebration and decided to implement the graduation ceremony at Elon.
“We wanted to give them something that was culturally relevant, intimate and uplifting,” Ojimadu said. “We still have a genuine and authenticity to it.”
Ojimadu said he has returned for the celebration every year since his graduation, and he is grateful to observe his continued passion develop not only operationally and programmatically but also increase in participation.
Despite the struggles and challenges of the pandemic, ceremony coordinator and Director of Alumni Engagement Deidra Smith said it was important to hold the Donning of the Kente to honor Elon’s Black community.
“These cultural ceremonies that we're putting on are important for our students of color to understand that they can keep and maintain their culture here, and that it can be celebrated, and this is the moment for them to shine,” Smith said.
As part of the ceremony, graduating seniors were also officially welcomed into the Black Elon Alumni Network, receiving a pin to not only empower and connect these individuals to their university, but further, to celebrate their heritage at Elon.
“Coming into alumni, being a part of the Elon Black Alumni Network is that you know that your time at Elon might be coming to a conclusion physically, but that doesn't mean that Elon goes away from you,” Smith said. “We will always be a part of your world. And we will always be a part of your life.”