UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Black Law Students Association (BLSA) at Penn State Law in University Park held its annual Donning of the Kente Ceremony on April 22 to celebrate its 2022 graduating members. Faculty, staff, family, friends, and peers joined the ceremony to share congratulations, memories, and words of support with the graduates as they prepare to enter the legal profession.
BLSA members in the Penn State Law Class of 2022 are Sharai Bryan, Breyonnia Duggins, Ayanna Humphrey, Brea Jones, Sidnee McDonald, Skyler Morgan, Melanie Ouma, and Tyson Smith.
The keynote speaker for this year’s ceremony was Tamla J. Lewis, associate general counsel at Penn State. In her address to the graduates, Lewis shared memories of her own experiences as a black woman in law school and, now, in the legal field. She emphasized the importance of mentors and encouraged the soon-to-be alumni to develop their voices as individuals.
She also spoke on the significance of the Kente cloth—which was developed in Ghana and adopted as a symbol of prestige, reserved for special occasions.
“Every time you look at the Kente cloth, it should be a call to action, to swing the pendulum forward, not just for you but for those coming after you,” Lewis said. “Wear it with pride, and I hope you feel a sense of accomplishment when you do.”
Tamla J. Lewis, associate general counsel at Penn State, addresses the BLSA graduates during her keynote. IMAGE CREDIT: Ken Kalbach/Penn State Law
The graduates’ Nittany pride is taking them beyond law school and setting them up on the right path for their future careers. Some of the notable achievements of 2022 BLSA graduates include:
- Bryan was one of 10 students selected state-wide to participate in the prestigious Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network's Martin Luther King Jr. Summer Internship Program in 2020 and 2021;
- Humphrey received a fellowship in summer 2020 through the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) and was inducted into Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, International. She will serve as a judicial clerk for the Honorable Judge Jeffrey S. Saltz, Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, beginning in August 2022 and has accepted an offer as an associate attorney at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis in Philadelphia, starting September 2023;
- Jones was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Congresswoman Barbara Jordan Educational Equity Scholarship, served as a summer associate for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC in 2020 and 2021, and has accepted an associate attorney position with the same law firm;
- McDonald was selected as the inaugural recipient of the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship, was a member of the BLSA moot court team that advanced to nationals in 2021, was selected by her peers for the 2022 Student Bar Association’s Law and Equity Student Leader Award, served as a summer associate for Cozen O'Connor in 2020 and 2021, and has accepted an associate attorney position with the same law firm;
- Morgan was selected to participate in the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group Fellowship Program in 2019 and the ACCGP Diversity Corporate Internship Program in 2020. She also earned a federal judicial externship in 2020 with the Honorable Judge William Arbuckle, Middle District of Pennsylvania, and received a post-graduate offer through Delaware's Minority Job Fair in 2021. She was selected as the student commencement speaker for the 2022 graduating class; and
- Smith was a member of the BLSA mock trial team that placed first overall in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition and advanced to nationals in 2021.
“The Donning of the Kente Ceremony was a tremendous celebration of the BLSA graduates in the Class of 2022, who have achieved great success as individuals and as a group,” said James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law in University Park and the School of International Affairs. “They’ve navigated law school at a challenging time and the ceremony was an opportunity to reflect on both their resilience and their potential to make great contributions in the years ahead.”
Over the past year, Penn State Law BLSA has also earned prestigious distinctions as a group, including winning the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Region Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition and being recognized as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of the Year and National Chapter of the Year.
BLSA Class of 2022 graduates Tyson Smith (left) and Brea Jones at the Donning of the Kente Ceremony. IMAGE CREDIT: Ken Kalbach/Penn State Law
The ceremony was an occasion to both reminisce on these past successes and to anticipate the future.
“The Donning of the Kente is the perfect event to showcase just how far we have come personally, academically, and professionally during our time in law school,” said Smith, who also requested a special shoutout to BLSA Vice President and second-year law student Taylor Washington for coordinating this year’s ceremony.
“Congratulations to all my fellow BLSA 3Ls graduating in May,” Smith added. “I can’t wait to witness the enormous amount of success we will all undoubtedly experience.”
BLSA Class of 2022 graduates Sidnee McDonald (left) and Sharai Bryan (right) at the Donning of the Kente Ceremony. IMAGE CREDIT: Ken Kalbach/Penn State Law
In addition to highlighting accomplishments, the graduates also emphasized the support they received within BLSA and among the Penn State Law community.
“BLSA is family,” said McDonald, who served as Penn State Law BLSA president and as national director of career and professional development for the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA) for the 2021-2022 academic year. “BLSA is the reason why I chose Penn State Law, remained at Penn State Law, and found success here. The Donning of the Kente Ceremony was a reminder that, although we are leaving the law school, we have an entire family rooting for our success and willing to support us on this next stage of our legal journey.”
McDonald and others also mentioned the numerous Penn State Law faculty and staff who have helped and supported them throughout their law school journey.
“I was moved to watch this this year’s Donning of the Kente and listen to the loving and supportive words of family members and friends of our BLSA graduates,” said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar, clinical professor of law, and director of the Center for Immigrants' Rights Clinic. “I am proud and inspired by the community BLSA has built and the extraordinary contributions they will make to the legal profession.”