Donning of the Kente ceremony celebrates academic accomplishments

May 16, 2017

CARLISLE, Pa. — It was a time to honor their heritage, experiences, achievements and those who supported them, not only during their time at Dickinson Law, but also throughout the rest of their educational journey.

Ten graduating seniors along with their family, friends, faculty, staff and classmates gathered in the Apfelbaum Family Courtroom and Auditorium on Friday, May 12, for the Donning of the Kente ceremony hosted by Dickinson Law’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA). The ceremony combined a rich African cultural heritage with the celebration of educational achievement in an intimate setting.

“The Donning of the Kente ceremony was the perfect opportunity to capture all that being a black law student has meant to this year's graduates,” said graduating senior Tito Valdes. “In a world where loudly proclaiming that black lives matter is still a controversial statement in certain contexts, it is crucial for the legal profession to look more like the demographic it serves. Diversity and inclusion are beautiful, and we are all better because of them.”

Students were donned by members of the incoming BLSA executive board in the traditional Kente cloth. Origins of the Kente cloth date back to 12th century Africa, typically associated with the Ashanti people of what is now Ghana. Weavers used vibrant colors and complex designs to portray the cloth’s profound philosophical meaning.

BLSA named the ceremony in honor of 1959 alumnus Paul E. Waters for his dedication and service to the legal profession. Waters made history with Shumaker Placey, Smeltz, and Waters as the first attorney of color in Dauphin County to become a law firm partner, and the first African-American to serve as counsel to the Pennsylvania State Senate Judiciary Committee. Waters’ wife, Sylvia; daughter, Harrisburg-area attorney and 1987 alumna Joy Waters Fleming; and his grandson attended the ceremony.

Keynote speaker Kristi L. Johnson, a 2006 alumna and a litigation attorney for the Labor Law Field Support Center, Air Force Legal Operations Agency at Joint Base Andrews, noted the importance of being proactive about identifying mentors for every aspect of their careers. “Some of you may be lucky enough to have people see the beauty of who you are and your potential, and they will reach out to you, invest in you, and will show you that they think you’re worth the risk,” Johnson said. “For most of you, you’re going to have to go out and pursue that, and cultivate those relationships to make them grow.”

Valdes encouraged his classmates to be revolutionary. “Continue to be fearless in your pursuit of what sets your soul on fire,” he said. “At every step, remember that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams. It was an honor to share this building with you for three years. I know that you will be incredible lawyers, and I know that I will be a better lawyer because I learned to be one alongside all of you.”

Assistant Dean of Student Services Yolanda Ingram said that collectively, these students touched her life in so many different ways, and shared the following advice: “There are a lot of doors we can walk through. Sometimes we get to places and the doors close. While there are a lot of people that want to close them, remember there are a lot of people fighting for you. Sometimes you don’t know it, and you may never know it. Be that person for someone else.”

Recipients of the Kente included Raymond Baker, Karanjah Burris, Hermionne Cadet, Rue-Ann Gabriel, Brittany James, Laura López Ledesma, Kadeem Morris, Jenessa Smith, Judith Tonkins, and Tito Valdes.

To view additional photos from the ceremony, visit the Dickinson Law Facebook page.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 24, 2017