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College to host inaugural ‘Donning of the Kente’ ceremony

  • Donning of the Kente
    Donning of the Kente
    An example of Kente cloth
    Photo by Randall R. Stith, Virginia Tech
  • Donning of the Kente
    Donning of the Kente
    The Hulon Willis Alumni Association (whose logo is seen here) and The Lemon Project are sponsoring the College's inaugural Donning of the Kente ceremony.

The College of William & Mary will hold its first “Donning of the Kente” ceremony on May 11, with more than 40 students expected to participate.

The event, which celebrates academic achievement among students of color, will be held at 6 p.m. in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium. The ceremony is being sponsored by the Hulon Willis Alumni Association and the Lemon Project. It is free and open to the public.

“We are excited about adding this ritual to other William & Mary traditions,” said Jody Allen, managing director and co-chair of the Lemon Project.

During the event, each participant will be presented with a student-designed stole which includes a symbol that means “unity in diversity.” Each participant has selected an individual – including family members, friends, faculty, administrators and mentors -- to place the stole around his or her neck during the event. The stoles may also be worn during the College’s Commencement ceremony on Sunday.

In addition to Allen, other people who will be speaking at the event include Associate Vice President for Development Earl T. Granger III, Provost Michael R. Halleran, Assistant to the President for Community Initiatives and Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover, Director of the Center for Student Diversity Vernon Hurte, University Associate Professor of Teaching Excellence Robert Vinson, graduating senior Cienna Wesley ’12 and alumnus Justin Reid ’09.

The first Donning of the Kente ceremony took place at Pennsylvania’s West Chester University in 1993. The name comes from the Kente cloth that has been traditionally created in West Africa. Since the inception of the ceremony, it has become a rite of passage for many students of color, and colleges throughout the country have incorporated it into their Commencement activities.

Allen said that William & Mary’s inaugural Donning of the Kente ceremony seeks to recognize and reward achievement, encourage students to continue striving for excellence and provide an intimate end-of-college experience for the graduating seniors. In addition, the event’s organizers hope that the ceremony signals the College’s desire to meet the needs of all of its students; they also hope that the event generates interest among participants in the Hulon Willis Association, the College’s African-American alumni group.

Last fall, the association honored the College’s first African-American residential students in an event during Homecoming weekend. A few months later, the Lemon Project – which explores the College’s history with the African-American community from slavery through the Jim Crow era -- hosted its second annual spring symposium.