Last weekend, the Eastern Mennonite University community honored approximately 30 students at the sixth annual Donning of the Kente Ceremony.
The ceremony, always the first of the Commencement events, recognizes and rewards achievement; honors those who contributed to the grad’s success; connects grads to their heritage; and encourages them to continue striving for excellence.
The ceremony was live in Martin Chapel, but limited to participants and their honorary donors. The new livestream format enabled friends and family, and a few honored donneers, from around the world to share in the joy of the moment, sending messages of love and support through the chat. [View the recording of the ceremony on Facebook Live from our EMU Facebook page.]
The ceremony, which is voluntary and open to all, celebrates the achievements of graduating seniors who recognize their international roots. Each graduate receives a stole of kente cloth, a symbol of prestige in many African societies, handwoven for each graduate, or a satin sash with flags from the countries they feel a connection with.
Each student selects an individual to place the stole or sash around his or her neck. Many seniors choose to wear the stole at commencement as an important component o f their academic regalia.
Hosts of the ceremony were Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services and special advisor to the president on diversity, equity and inclusion, and Micah Shristi, director of international student services. David Berry, professor of music, contributed musical selections, and Brian Martin Burkholder, campus pastor, gave the blessing.
Nana Akyaa Okyere Acheampong, a nursing major from Harrisonburg, Va., donned by Kennedy Akwo
Justice Allen, a recreation sports management major from Waynesboro, Va., donned by Bob Hepler, cross country and track coach
Josephine Awotoye, from Brooklyn Park, Minn., graduating with an MS in biomedicine and donned by Laura Otieno
Akiel Baker, a social work major from Bowie, Md., donned by Celeste Thomas
Luz Contreras, from McGaheysville, Va., graduating with an MS in biomedicine, donned by Professor Beth Good (nursing)
Maya Dula, a biology major from Lancaster, Pa., donned by Celeste Thomas
Brandon Higgins, a psychology major from Culpepper,Va., donned by Lindy Magness, assistant director for housing and residence life
Amanda Jasper, a social work major from Madion, Va., donned by Celeste Thomas
Terry Jones Jr, a computer science major from Palmyra, Va., donned by Professor David Berry (music)
Brenda Kasongo, an accounting major from Kinshasa, The Democratic Republic of Congo, donned by her father Louis Kasongo Olenga
Yonas Ketsala, a nursing major from Alexandria, Va., donned by Brian Martin Burkholder, campus pastor and Yonas’s spiritual mentor
Philia Lienardy, a photography major from Semarang, Indonesia, donned by her best friend Kayla Segner
Anisa Leonard, a social work major from Nairobi, Kenya, and Harrisonburg, Va., donned by Shannon Dycus, dean of students
Rodrigo Makelele, earning an MA in conflict transformation, from The Democratic Republic of Congo and Harrisonburg, Va., donned by Jayne Docherty, executive director and professor, Center for Justice and Peacebuilding
Mariana Martinez-Hernandez, a peacebuilding major from Tegucigulpa, Honduras, donned by her roommate and cousin Alexa Lorenzana
Maha Mehanna, earning a graduate certificate in business administration (2021), and an MA in organizational leadership and a graduate certificate in restorative justice (2020), from Gaza, Palestine, donned by David Brubaker, dean and professor of the School of Social Sciences and Professions
Valerie Meza-Cooper, earning an MA in Counseling from Woodstock, Va., donned by Celeste Thomas
Aminata Wallet Mohamed, earning an MA in conflict transformation from Bamako, Mali, donned by Micah Shristi
Helen Momoh, earning an MA in conflict transformation from Harrisonburg, Va., donned by her spouse Charles Kwuelum
Sidney Morgan, earning an MA Transformational Leadership from Vancouver, Wa., donned by her three children
Edith Ortega-Sanchez, a peacebuilding and development major from Torreon, Mexico, donned by her mother Maria de Ortega
Jakiran Richardson, a biology major from Virginia Beach, Va., donned by Celeste Thomas
Gene St. Val, earning an MS in biomedicine from Eden, Md., donned by Tara Kishbaugh, professor and dean of the School of Sciences, Engineering, Art and Nursing
Shakeerah Sykes, earning an MA in Counseling from Harrisonburg, Va., donned by Professor Jennifer Cline standing in for Rita Dunston, Shakeerah’s aunt.
Angela Walker, earning an MA in conflict transformation, from Amity, Ore., donned by her nephew and nieces Asia, Andrew and Aaliyah Smith
Tessa Waidelich, a computer science major from Pettisville, Ohio, donned by Charles Cooley, instructor (computer science)
Rebecca Yugga, major in Spanish language and Hispanic studies from Rockingham, Va., donned by Celeste Thomas.
*Two students’ names have been redacted for security purposes.