Donning of the Kente ceremony celebrates academic accomplishments

CARLISLE, Pa. — It was a ceremony that combined a rich African cultural heritage with the celebration of educational achievement.

Shawn Baldwin, Paul Jordonne and Marissa Lawall, each a member of the class of 2018, along with family, friends, faculty and staff, gathered inside the Apfelbaum Family Courtroom and Auditorium on Friday, May 11, for the Donning of the Kente ceremony hosted by Dickinson Law’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA). Their heritage, experiences and achievements, and those who supported them during their time at Dickinson Law and throughout the rest of their educational journey, were honored as part of the annual ceremony.

“The Donning of the Kente ceremony was not only the culmination of my involvement in BLSA, but also my experience at Dickinson Law as a woman of color,” said Lawall, who served as BLSA president during her second year of law school. “Working with Shawn and Paul over the last three years has made me a better leader and person. It is important that we are recognized for what it means to be black law students and now black attorneys.”

Baldwin, Jordonne and Lawall were donned in the traditional Kente cloth by Courtney Lewis (class of 2019), outgoing treasurer of BLSA, and Trey Manning (class of 2020), incoming BLSA president. 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.

Keynote speaker Christina C. Bonne Année (class of 2010), an administrative law judge with the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in Albany, New York, shared her career path both before and after law school, the importance and impact of professional relationships, and missteps to avoid, including not being open to what you are exposed to in the field of law.

Bonne Année, who is committed to service and giving back to her community and organizations, also encouraged the graduates to applaud themselves.

“When you find yourself questioning your ability to thrive, to grow and to excel, remember this moment,” she said. “Remember what the odds were against you in being in this moment, and remember that you’re here.”

She also encouraged the graduates to use their research skills and to be patient with themselves and the process while settling into their legal careers.

“Take in wise counsel, but in terms of opinions about who you should be, what you should be, and how you should function, that’s for you to determine,” Bonne Année said. 

Kadeem Morris (class of 2017), staff attorney and Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow for the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project and participant in last year’s ceremony, offered closing remarks.

“Your job is to be more than a lawyer,” said Morris. “You have an obligation to be a game changer and an opportunity maker, and to hold the doors of the field open so that future generations that come behind you will no longer have to fight to be considered or counted, but will have a right to be here.”

The ceremony is held each year in honor of Paul E. Waters (class of 1959) 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, and family members attended this year’s ceremony.

View a photo album from the ceremony.

Last Updated May 22, 2018