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Penn State Law honors Black Law Students Association Class of 2024

Faculty, staff, students, family, and friends all came together on Friday, April 12, for Penn State Law in University Park’s Donning of the Kente Ceremony, an annual celebration of the graduating members of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). This year’s ceremony honored 14 graduating BLSA members.
BLSA Class of 2024

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Faculty, staff, students, family, and friends all came together on Friday, April 12, for Penn State Law in University Park’s Donning of the Kente Ceremony, an annual celebration of the graduating members of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). This year’s ceremony honored 14 graduating BLSA members.

“Overall, the Donning of the Kente is a deeply meaningful and culturally rich ceremony that celebrates academic success, cultural heritage, and community solidarity,” said Dr. Wende’ Ferguson, associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and assistant dean for student services. “It embodies themes of identity, achievement, unity, and transition, making it a cherished tradition of the Penn State Law Black Law Students Association.”

BLSA members in the Penn State Law Class of 2024 are Nkechi Amadiegwu, Brooke Benjamin, Daijah Blackburn, Jordan Brown, Aura Karina Cardona Vargas, Taylor Clark, Malik DeVese, Nia Evereteze, Lawrence Miller, Austin Nguyen, Tiffany Onyeze, Abdulai Rashid, Khalid Smith, and Page Villarreal.

“It was wonderful to celebrate the Donning of the Kente to honor our graduating BLSA class,” said Victor Romero, interim dean of Penn State Law in University Park and the School of International Affairs, Maureen B. Cavanaugh Distinguished Faculty Scholar, and professor of law. “From the speakers, to the video greetings, to the fellowship both before and after, it was a fitting send-off and a joyful tribute.”


This year’s ceremony featured two keynote speakers. The first speaker was Judge Oshia Gainer Banks, an administrative judge with the Philadelphia District Office of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission where she adjudicates claims brought by federal employees arising under various federal anti-discrimination statutes.

Judge Oshia Gainer BanksJudge Banks began her keynote address by asking the soon-to-be law school graduates to reflect on who they are and decide what kind of person they wanted to be.

“Who you are compels your decisions. Your decisions define your character. And your character ultimately determines your legacy,” Banks said.

She added that the legal field is often a world of compromises filled with blurred lines and shades of gray, making it easy for legal professionals to “lose sight of their moral compass.”

“Throughout your legal journey, I implore you to continue to ask yourself: ‘Am I serving with integrity? Or am I compromising my values? Am I acting from a place of authenticity? Or am I being led by ego?’” Banks said.

Banks was followed by the second keynote, Marcelius Braxton, director of the Center for Social Change and Belonging at Penn State and an affiliate associate teaching professor of African studies and philosophy.

Marcelius BraxtonIn his remarks, Braxton acknowledged two realities—one is that people are losing faith in the law because “rather than using the law for fairness and equity, people are using it to harm or deny others of opportunity, autonomy, and freedom,” with a particular impact on the rights of minoritized and marginalized communities.

The other reality, he said, is that we also have a society of people dedicated to inclusion, equity, change, helping, and caring about others.

“That reality is what I see in the BLSA graduates and also what gives me hope,” Braxton said.

He also spoke about Black joy and encouraged the graduates to consider it within the intersections of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomics, religion, ability, and geography. He emphasized that no one is free until everyone is free.

“Law has the ability to hinder and oppress, but law also has the ability to free and liberate,” Braxton said.


Second-year law student Ama Yarboi, BLSA’s current (2023-2024) president, also delivered remarks during the ceremony. Yarboi, a Ghanaian American and a Fanti of the greater Akan tribe, said that she takes immense pride in the display of the cultural heritage and practices of her sister tribe, the Ashantis, where the Kente holds significant cultural importance, and where the Donning ceremony has its roots.

She emphasized the importance of community and gratitude—the latter of which she credits to her maternal grandmother for teaching her—and reflected on her time as BLSA’s leader.

“The Donning of the Kente marks the last official event of my presidency, and while I feel sad and a little empty leaving a position that I have poured my all into, I am excited to see the next president step forward while I—hopefully—enjoy a quiet 3L year,” Yarboi said. “I want to thank everyone, from Penn State Law administrators, professors, staff, BLSA members and board, and BLSA allies, for supporting the organization during my tenure as president.”


Many of the graduates played an active leadership role in BLSA in addition to other student organizations. During their time at Penn State Law, they held many positions and earned numerous achievements.

  Brooke Benjamin  
  Brooke Benjamin, part of the BLSA Class of 2024 at Penn State Law, receives the Kente cloth at the ceremony. IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State  
  • Amadiegwu served as the BLSA chapter secretary (2022-2023) and was a clinical student in the Penn State Law Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic in her second and third years.
  • Benjamin served as the Student Bar Association (SBA) Law and Equity Committee co-chair (2022-2024); OutLaw co-president (2022-2023); final oralist for Penn State Law’s Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court team (2022-2023); and completed an externship with the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office (fall 2023).
  • Blackburn served as SBA class representative (2021-2022); regional champion in the Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition (2022); BLSA vice president (2022-2023); and regional mock trial director of the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA) (2023-2024).
  • Brown served as BLSA president (2022-2023); placed second regionally in the Thurgood Marshall Moot Court competition (2022-2023); SBA Law and Equity Committee Outstanding 3L Award recipient (2023-2024); and completed a federal judicial externship with the Honorable Chief Judge-Elect George L. Russell, III, U.S. District Court for Maryland (2023).
  • Cardona Vargas was a writer for the Penn State Law Immigration Law Blog; and received the LL.M. Equity Award from the SBA Law and Equity Committee (2024).
  • Clark served as Criminal Law Society Fellowship chair; Public Interest Law Fund (PILF) auction chair; oralist for Criminal Procedure Moot Court; and director of MABLSA Moot Court.
  • DeVese was a 1L representative for the Sports and Entertainment Law Society (2021-2022); BLSA historian (2022-2023); BLSA representative on the SBA Law and Equity Committee (2021-2023); and a coach for BLSA Negotiations Team (2021-2022).
  • Evereteze competed on the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team; she served as president of the National Security Law Society (2023-2024); Health Law Society secretary (2023-2024); and outreach coordinator of If/ When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice (2022-2023).
  • Miller served as the student body president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) at Penn State (2023-2024); founding chancellor for the Penn State Law Alternative Dispute Resolution Program (2022-2024); SBA chief justice (2021-2024); and president of Phi Alpha Delta Fraternity, International (2022-2023).
  • Nguyen served as BLSA social and community chair (2022-2023); coached the Phi Alpha Delta 1L Mock Trial team (2022-2023); winner of the Penn State Law 1L Mock Trial Competition (2022); and he was a summer clerk for Santa Clara’s Office of the District Attorney (2022-2023).
  • Onyeze completed an externship with Penn State’s Office of Ethics and Compliance; was a member of Penn State Law’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Competition team; and served as MABLSA vice chair (2022-2023).
  • Rashid served as chancellor of the Alternative Dispute Resolution team (2023-2024); MABLSA parliamentarian (2022-2023); coach for BLSA’s Nelson Mandela Negotiations team; and was a member of the Intellectual Property Clinic.
  • Smith was director of the Nelson Mandela International Negotiations Competition (2023-2024); founder of Penn State Law Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR); Sports and Entertainment Law Society president (2023-2024); and an extern in the Penn State NCAA Compliance Office.
  • Villarreal served as BLSA social affairs chair (2021-2022); created the Black Leaders lecture series and led a $1,600 fundraiser to donate to prison education initiatives (2021-2022); interned with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (2021); and led educational and activist efforts around the rights of incarcerated individuals and the local transgender community (2023-2024).

The graduates have made their impact at Penn State Law in University Park, and now they are poised to bring their skills and abilities to the legal profession.

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