Pastor Leon McDonald, ’03, delivers alumni address for the second annual Kente Graduation ceremony

“Legacy is not what you leave for someone, it’s what you leave in them.”

May 8, 2023

Pastor Leon McDonald wearing a coat and a white shirt with colored buttons, addresses students for his alumni address.
A student wearing academic regalia addresses an audience of graduates from a podium.
Students wearing academic regalia watch as remarks are given at a commencement ceremony.
Graduating students wearing academic regalia pose together.

Friday, April 28, Pastor Leon McDonald, ’03, delivered the alumni address for the second annual Kente Graduation ceremony in Baldwin Hall. His remarks were met by joyous applause from students and shouts of loving agreement from the parents, staff and faculty who came to honor the graduates.

Graduating seniors had the option to celebrate the significance of their social identities during their college experience during one of three affinity graduation ceremonies: Lavender Graduation for queer students, La Cosecha Graduation for Latin@ students and Kente Graduation for Black students. There were more than 400 attendees across the three ceremonies.

This is only the second year for these traditions at Albion College, but affinity graduation ceremonies have taken place for decades around the United States. They are a way to communicate the importance of belonging and meet the unique cultural needs of all students and their families. Affinity ceremonies often involve bilingual, bidialectal or translated speeches, observance of cultural rituals and explicit recognition of the challenges that Black, Brown and queer students overcome to earn a college degree. Special graduation stoles featuring symbols from these groups’ respective histories are distributed, as well as honors cords from the Dr. James L. Curtis Institute for Race and Belonging.

At Albion College, affinity graduation ceremonies were introduced by Assistant Dean for Campus Life Sharese Shannon Mathis. She notes the importance of these celebrations to not only extend belonging to current and graduating students, but also to Albion College alumni. “This is a good opportunity for alumni to return and connect,” she said, “and for them to officially welcome graduating seniors into the alumni network in a more intimate and affirming context.”

In a 2018 article entitled Black Commencement and the Value of Affinity Initiatives, educator David Roane described affinity graduation ceremonies as a place of refuge from the responsibilities of cultural ambassadorship and the duality of identity that often accompanies Black students’ experiences at predominantly white institutions. “Those living outside of the majority culture often feel alienated or overlooked, and are often taxed with the burden of explaining the value of their contributions,” he said. Affinity graduation ceremonies “honor the impulse of bonding with those of similar background and experiences, where people needn’t feel the pressure to explain themselves, because who they are is assumed to be understood.” Our expansive approach to these new traditions highlights our innovative approach to belonging, and the place-making efforts that help more students understand the College as a homespace.