At EMU, Donning of the Kente brings mentors, friends and family from near and far to celebrate 2019 grads

Art Dean’s message for graduating seniors at Eastern Mennonite University’s fourth annual Donning of the Kente ceremony was simple and he used their own stories to affirm it.

He asked four seniors to name their fears when they first arrived on campus and then asked whether that fear was still present. From making friends to finding people who looked like me, the fears had been overcome. Dean, executive director of Campus and Community Access and Inclusion at James Madison University, urged the graduates to gain strength from this knowledge, that they themselves had met their own fears with strengths they did not know they had.


Art Dean, executive director of Campus and Community Access and Inclusion at James Madison University, speaks to Eastern Mennonite University graduates during the 2019 Donning of the Kente Ceremony.

“New doesn’t mean unconquerable. It just means new,” said Dean, executive director of Campus and Community Access and Inclusion at James Madison University. “The same things that helped you navigate the challenges and fears when you came to this new community don’t go away. Those strengths are within you still, as you accept the new challenges that await you as graduates.”

The ceremony was the first time upcoming graduates wore their caps and gowns and the first inkling of the celebration to come. During the May 5 Commencement ceremony, each student will wear a special stole, some made of kente cloth but others of satin fabric symbolizing heritage, roots within one or various communities, or citizenship.

The formal presentation of these stoles was the reason for coming together with family, friends and EMU community members Wednesday evening. The ceremony celebrates the accomplishments of graduating students of color as well as the history of black students’ and students of color achievements at the university, according to Multicultural Student Services Director Celeste Thomas, who started the first event three years ago.

“We gather here to honor these students, some of whom are the first of their family to graduate from college, and to wish them well on their way forward,” she said in her welcome. “For those of you who our graduates have selected to place the kente cloth over their shoulders, it is a great honor.”

Micah Shristi, director of international student services and advisor to the International Student Organization, and M. Esther Showalter, advisor to the Latino Student Alliance, also co-hosted the event.

Donning of the Kente participants

Grant Amoanteng, a social work major from Bristow, Virginia, donned by Erick Camodeca, associate track and field and cross country coach;

Talibah Aquil, from Bronx, New York, earning a master’s degree in conflict transformation, donned by Professor Johonna Turner;

Asmait Bekuretsion Asgedom, a social work major with minors in sociology and criminology and restorative justice from Woodstock, Virginia, donned by Professor Melody Pannell;

Marilda Bardhi, from Albania, earning a master’s degree in organizational leadership, donned by Professor David Brubaker;

Ram Bhagat, PhD, from Richmond, Virginia, earning a graduate certificate in restorative justice, donned by Professor Johonna Turner;

Maria Cardosa Martinez, a nursing major from Harrisonburg, Virginia, donned by Professor Audrey Myers;

Heyrin Cha, a nursing major from Cheonan, Republic of Korea, donned by Pastor James Rhee;

Jae Hyun Cho, an accounting major from Seoul, Republic of Korea, donned by Micah Shristi, director of international student services;

Marleyna Contreras, a liberal arts major with a minor in psychology from Brooklyn, New York, donned by Professor Melody Pannell;

Devantae Dews, a liberal arts major from Lynchburg, Virginia, donned by Gabriel Kreider, campus ministry affiliate from Divine Unity Community Church;

Toni Doss, a digital media and photography major with a minor in art from Damascus, Virginia, donned by Carolyn Foster-Doss, her mother;

Fred Isaac Flores-Cano, an international business major from San Pedro Sula, Honduras,  donned by Gabriel Kreider, campus ministry affiliate from Divine Unity Community Church;

Jourdyn Friend, a business administration major with a minor in human resource management from Richmond, Virginia, donned by Professor Roxann Allen Kioko andCeleste Thomas, director of multicultural student services;

Degache Fuklau, a liberal arts major with a minor in biology from Harrisonburg, Virginia, donned by Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services;

Wael Gamtessa, a computer science major with a minor a photography from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, donned by Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services;

William Geary, a business administration major with a minor in human resource management from Mount Jackson, Virginia, donned by Professor Leah Kratz;

Ivan Harris, a photography and digital media major from Spotsylvania, Virginia, donned by Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services;

Yi Grace He, a social work major, donned by Micah Shristi, director of international student services

Valeria Hernández Bustillo, a social work major from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, donned by Professor Melody Pannell;

Mario Hernández, a biology and history major with a honors minor, donned by M. Esther Showalter, advisor for Latino Student Alliance;

Mariah King, a liberal arts and special education major with a minor in psychology from Harrisonburg, Va., donned by Professor Lori Leaman;

Mark Loving II, an kinesiology and exercise science major from Woodford, Virginia, donned by Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services;

Maha Mehanna, from Palestine, earning a master’s degree in conflict transformation, donned by Daryl Byler, director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and Professor Gloria Rhodes;

Tajah Miller, a social work major from Waynesboro, Virginia, donned by Professor Melody Pannell;

Brenda Miramontes, a social work major from Harrisonburg, Virginia, donned by Professor Carol Hurst;

Linda Ouedraogo, a biology major with a minor in sociology from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, donned by Professor Jim Yoder;

Melody Pannell, from Harlem, New York, earning a graduate certificate in restorative justice, donned by Professor Johonna Turner;

Xander Silva, an environmental sustainability major with minors in psychology, biology and pre-law, donned by Professor Steve Cessna;

Yordanos Tesfa, an English and writing studies major with a minor in peacebuilding, from Bowie, Maryland, donned by Professor Gloria Rhodes;

Monique Tshibola, an organizational leadership major, from Barumbu Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, donned by Katie Mansfield, director of the STAR program, who shared congratulations of her husband Rodrigue Makelele while holding Monique and Rodrigue’s 1-month-old baby;

Precious Waddy, a social work major with a minor in criminology and restorative justice from Richmond, Virginia, donned Celeste Thomas, director of multicultural student services

Jessica Washington, a liberal arts and elementary education major with a minor in history from Chesapeake, Virginia, donned by Professor Kathy Evans;

Cameron White, a social work major from Palmyra, Virginia, donned by Stephanie and Anthony Whindleton, her parents;

Clarissa White, a kinesiology and exercise science major from Portsmouth, Virginia,  donned by Georgette White, her mother;

Jasmine Wilson, a psychology major from Woodbridge, Virginia, donned by Professor Melody Pannell.