Twenty-two grads look forward to fall Donning of the Kente ceremony

The Donning of the Kente ceremony is traditionally the first event of Eastern Mennonite University’s Commencement ceremonies.  This spring’s event, along with other graduation events, has been postponed until fall 2020.

Multicultural Student Services Director Celeste Thomas started the first ceremony four  years ago to recognize the achievements of the university’s students of color. Participation has grown and the ceremony includes many international students, and more graduate students as well. Micah Shristi, director of International Student Services and advisor to the International Student Organization, is a co-host of the event.

Graduates can opt for a stole of kente cloth or a satin sash with a flag representing a country of cultural connection. At the ceremony, the stoles are placed around the graduate by a mentor selected by the student. 

“Anyone would agree that completing a university degree takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Shristi. “The donning ceremony honors the fact that completing a degree while navigating cultural and language barriers, perhaps in a foreign country far from family and friends,  is an even greater accomplishment.”

The fall event will be announced in conjunction with plans for the fall commencement ceremony. Visit for updates.

Here are the 2020 graduates, with some information about their academic and extracurricular accomplishments, as well as the name of their honorary donner.

Ariel Barbosa is a Bible, religion, and theology and sociology double-major with minors in  honors and interfaith studies. She is a Cords of Distinction honoree. She held leadership positions in Latino Student Alliance, Student Government Association, the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. She was a four-year member of the soccer team. She plans to work in Washington D.C. with long-term plans of moving to Brazil, where she has family. Professor Jenni Holsinger is her honorary donner.

Tala Bautista, a graduate student in the MA in conflict transformation program at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, was involved with On the Road Collaborative, Virginia Organizing, and FUEGO. Among her contributions to EMU and CJP was the initiation of a relationship with the indigenous Monacan Nation. She will return to the Philippines and continue work with Coffee For Peace, an organization which she co- leads as vice president. Her honorary donners are Professor Johonna Turner and Katie Mansfield, lead trainer of the STAR program. 

Kirby Broadnax, a graduate student in the MA in conflict transformation program at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, was an orientation graduate assistant, and served on the CJP 25th Anniversary Planning Committee and the 2019 Community Grounding Day Committee. She was also involved in the 2018 Indigenous People’s Day Celebration. Kirby will return to Cleveland, Ohio, to reconnect with her network and explore the potential and interest around restorative and healing-centered ways of addressing conflict. Her honorary donner is Professor Johonna Turner.

Kiana Childress graduates with degrees in communications and photography. She was involved with the Black Student Alliance, Destiny’s Daughters, and the Weathervane newspaper. Kiana also was a member of the track and field team. She plans to stay in the Harrisonburg area, pursue work in her field and earn a master’s degree. Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services,  is her honorary donner.

Diana Crespin-Gomez is a Spanish and Hispanic Studies major who was involved in Latino Student Alliance. She will intern in Washington D.C. this summer through Washington Community Scholars’ Center. Her honorary donner is Ranene Ropp, Diana’s supervisor at the EMU post office.  

Emilio R. Fajardo, a Spanish and Biology double-major, honored Professor Kris Schmidt as his honorary donner.

Sako Haji, a computer science major and Spanish minor, played two years of soccer. She also served as tutor with Church World Service and was a member of ACM and Latino Student Alliance. Her mother Sarah Salem is her honorary donner.

Sophia Hartman is a psychology major with a neuroscience minor. She is senior class president. I work at a residential mental health facility for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board and interned with the Psychiatric Emergency Team at Sentara RMH. She plans to move to Richmond, Virginia, and explore options to enter a graduate research program. Michelle Hensley, director of financial assistance, and Zach Yoder, director of retention, were her honorary donners.

Alexus Holbert is a graduate student in the MS in biomedicine program. She plans to become a nurse practitioner, with a long-term career goal of working with genetic counselors and oncologists. Her honorary donner is Celeste Thomas,  director of multicultural student services.

Paul Kayembe is a peacebuilding and sociology major with minors in pre-law, political studies and English. His various leadership roles include president of the EMU Rotaract, co-president of the International Student Organization, chairman of the College Republicans, and program coordinator for Black Student Alliance. He is donning himself.

Earnest Kiah, a music performance major, led the gospel choir and was active in the Black Student Union. Earnest plans to move to Atlanta, Georgia, and pursue a career in real estate. Professor David Berry is the honored donner of the stole.

Kiara Kiah, a music performance and social work double-major, was a member of the Gospel Choir and Black Student Union, secretary for Destiny’s Daughters. Kiara will move to Atlanta, Geogia, to pursue a career in social work. Her honoree donner is Melody Panell, with Destiny’s Daughters.

Donaldo Lleshi, a biology and pre-med major, is a Cords of Distinction honoree. He served as a community assistant in the residence halls for two years, and held leadership positions in the International Student Organization, Latino Student Alliance, Student Government Association, Pre-professional Health Sciences Club and Rotoract. Donaldo also worked in multiple sectors of the campus, including custodial, facilities management, residence life, the  library, cafeteria, and Common Grounds. Daniel Zimmerman, the resident assistant while Donaldo was a CA in North Lawn, will be his honorary donner.

Rodrigue Makelele earns an MA in conflict transformation. He was a community organizer at Church World Service and plans to continue organizing work after graduation. His wife, Monique Tshibola, is his honorary donner.

Juan Becerra Martinez is graduating with degrees in organizational leadership, human resource management and marketing. At EMU, he was involved with the cycling club, while also working at Best Buy. His honorary donner is his fiance, Samatha Holly Reed.

Maha Mehanna is completing her second master’s degree at EMU. She previously earned an MA in conflict transformation and is completing an MA in organizational leadership. Dean David Brubaker will be her honorary donner.

Justin Odom is a political science and Biblical studies major with a minor in music performance. He also earned EMU’s highest honor, the Cords of Distinction. Justin was involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Ministry Council and Creation Care Council, Gospel Choir and Celebration. He was a senator in the Student Government Association, a ministry assistant, a pastoral assistant, community advisor in the residence halls, and a member of the track and field team. Justin will intern in Washington D.C. this summer. His honorary donner is Professor Ji Eun Kim.

Kiontay Reynolds is a computer science major. She will work as a software engineer after graduation. Her honorary donner is Celeste Thomas,  director of multicultural student services.

Phoebe Swe, a psychology major with an Honors minor, was involved with student life, Common Grounds, the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, the library, and summer conferences and events. She volunteered or interned at Gemeinschaft Home and the Kids Club at Park View Mennonite Church. She will do a year of service with PULSE in Pittsburgh, Pa. Her honorary donner is Micah Shristi, director of international student services.

Juan Vazquez is a computer engineering major and a member of the soccer team. His mother, Sofia Gomez, is his honorary donner.