Kent State celebrates diversity at Karamu graduation


Ty Kohler

A Kent State student accepts her stole at the Karamu Commencement. She is a nursing major with plans to further her nursing education.

Ty Kohler, Reporter

Michelle Hull was sitting next to her son, Kevin, on a bench at Manchester Field. She could not contain her grin and was holding back tears of joy as Kevin was wearing his cap and gown, preparing to walk across the stage.

Karamu Ya Wahitimu/Celebración de los Graduados is a pre-commencement celebration to honor the accomplishments of graduating African American, Native American, Latinx, Hispanic and multiracial students.

The name translates to graduation ceremony in Kiswahili and Spanish.

“Karamu is a way for us to honor our students with unique cultural backgrounds,” said Michael Daniels, director of the Student Multicultural Center. “It is rooted with deep cultural and symbolic meanings that were derived from the West African cultures it originated from.”

The event happened May 5 at 6 p.m. on Manchester Field. Students who are graduating in spring 2022 or summer 2022 or students who graduated in fall 2021 were invited to attend along with their family members and friends. Students could bring an unlimited number of guests.

Kevin Hull looks at his Kenke stole after walking on stage at the Karamu Commencement. (Ty Kohler )

Kevin Hull, a graduating translation major and a non-traditional student came back to college to change the major he had started years ago and finish it as something he wanted to use.

“I’m really honored to be here,” Kevin said. “I thank my professors, I thank my family, and I thank God for supporting me to get me here.”

Kevin specifically thanked his mother, who was sitting right next to him.

“I have always been so proud of him,” his mother Michelle said. “It’s hard to come back to schooling after stepping away from it for so long. It can be even harder as a minority student. I’m so glad he can get the recognition here for his hard work.”

The event started with traditional African drumming as speakers and college representatives took the stage and graduating students took their seats. Then there was a moment of silence to respect ancestors.

Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Lamar Hylton spoke directly to the students about the challenges they have overcome while in college.

“You have endured a global pandemic, racial injustice and the list goes on,” he said. “The truth of the matter is this has been an especially hard journey for any of us. You made your own table when there was none offered to you. You did it.”

Maya Sparks, a senior criminology and justice science major, started out by singing the Black National Anthem as a celebration of the community while exploring themes of freedom, liberty and joy, as well as struggles of the Black community.

Tayjua Monay Hines, a graduating arts and science major, read a poem about remembering the past, and talked about the mental adversities students have gone through to succeed in college.

Loriale Ware as she accepts her stole at the Karamu commencement. She thanked God and her family. (Ty Kohler )

Students walked across the stage to receive their ceremonial stoles, which were given by a representative of each college. There are three stoles that represent different cultures, described by Daniels.

The Kente stole was black with red, green and gold. It contained an Ashanti symbol, which represents royalty; a diamond, which represents wealth; and a key, which represents success. It originated from the Akan people of Ghana. The stole represents a high status and is only given at big events.

The Latin stole was white and contained the flags of all the Latin and Hispanic cultured countries. The flag is meant to have a theme of unity of the cultures.

The Native American stole was primarily brown with other lighter colors mixed in to symbolize a battle of ignorance and knowledge.​​ It is meant to be wrapped around the wearer to protect them from the dangers of the world. The stole also featured a feather design, which is used to represent many positive traits, such as wisdom, power and freedom.

Isabella Braman accepts her stole at the Karamu Commencement. Braman thanked her family for their support during college. (Ty Kohler)

The celebration started at Kent State in the early 1980s by the Department of Pan-African Studies for African students. In 1995, it expanded to include multiple student populations. This year was the first time since COVID-19 started that the event was fully in-person.

Kiara James receives her Kente stole during the Karamu Commencement. James thanked God, friends and Dr. Knight, among others. (Ty Kohler )

After the event, Kiara James, a graduating public health major, celebrated with her family and friends.

“I am very glad to be here with my family right now. This feels like an honor to my heritage,” James said. “I am so thankful to be doing this for all the people who supported me this far, and I can’t wait to see where I go next.”

Students left the event while the drums were playing again.

“This is the start for the next stage of life,” said Kevin Lopez, a graduating environmental studies major. “College is officially over now for us, so it’s time for the rest of our lives. I am proud of the people who graduated with me today and am excited for what the future holds for all of us.”

Ty Kohler is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].