Wearing a kente stole, senior Anisa Leonard (right) is congratulated by her mentor, Dean of Students Shannon Dycus, at the April 25 Donning of the Kente ceremony at Eastern Mennonite University. Leonard was among 30 graduate and undergraduate students to participate in the sixth annual event, traditionally the first held leading up to EMU's Commencement. (Photos by Rachel Holderman)

Sixth annual Donning of the Kente ceremony honors grads, their heritage and valued mentors

20210425 Donning of the Kente_RKH-62

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.]


Helen Momoh, who will be awarded an MA in conflict transformation next week, is greeted by her honorary donner, husband Charles Kwuelum MA ’14 (conflict transformation).

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.

Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services and advisor to EMU’s Black Student Alliance, speaks about Maya Dula (right), who among many other involvements, served on the leadership team of the organization. Thomas started the Donning of the Kente ceremony six years ago at EMU.

Participants 

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

Phoebe Swe, a peacebuilding and development major from Yangon, Myanmar, donned by Micah Shristi

Rachelle Swe, a peacebuilding and development and political science major from Yangon, Myanmar, donned by Professor Ji Eun Kim (political science)

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.

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