Aerial photograph of the Immaculate Conception Chapel

Kente Ceremony Serves as Rite of Passage

The Black Law Student Association launched a new tradition this spring with its first Donning of the Kente Ceremony, designed to be a rite-of-passage for African American law students. The celebration also served as a way to reward graduates for their hard work and dedication.

Participating graduates were draped in the stripes of Kente, a colorful cloth stole native to Ghana. The Kente cloth, often reserved for special occasions or royalty, is a visual representation of history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature, religious beliefs, social values, and political thoughts.

The ceremony, held April 8 in the Heck Courtroom, included remarks from Carter M. Stewart, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Staci Rucker, the School of Law's director of academic support.

Stewart described his own career path, from high school teacher to U.S. attorney, and advised students to stay true to their values. His encouraged the graduates to serve their community. His commitment to public service, for instance, as demonstrated by volunteer activities he undertook while working outside the government, made a difference as he sought government work. Stewart said that he has been involved in pro bono legal work and community service for CASA, charter schools, a theater board and other nonprofits.

He also stressed that graduates need to be persistent and diligent as they work to achieve their career goals, explaining that it took him three attempts before he was hired by the U.S. Attorney's office in San Jose, California.

In her address, Rucker laid out a four-point charge to the graduates: "be excellent," "be connected to your community," "be fearless," and "be in order."

First, she told the students to be "the best that you can be."

"Strive for nothing less than excellence in everything that you do," she said. "In practice, work hard to represent your clients to your fullest ability."

Secondly, Rucker reminded them to stay connected to their communities. "You can use your legal training - problem solving skills, policy interpretation skills, negotiating skills - to help make a difference," she said. "It is very easy to get so caught up in everyday life that you forget your responsibility to others. Be an active participant in your community and a voice for your community."

Then, she encouraged the graduates not to be afraid to take risks, even if it leads occasionally to failure. "The only people who do not experience failure are people who are too fearful to do anything," she said.

"Being fearless means that you are willing to stand up for what you believe in, even when it's not popular. It also means the confidence to take your rightful seat at the table and letting your voice be heard."

Finally, she charged the students to "remain centered and keep focus on what is most important in your life and regularly evaluate whether you are keeping true to what you say you value most. It is easy for a lawyer's life to be consumed with work and neglect other important aspects of life."

She encouraged the students to determine priorities. "As you enter your careers, periodically reflect on whether you are staying true to those priorities," she said. "Take time to enjoy life by doing the things that bring joy to your life."