The ceremony marks the achievements of black UM students and honors the transition to life beyond graduation.
Special to UM News
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 08, 2014) —
As three drummers set the tone, close to 200 students wearing decorated mortarboards, colorful fraternity/sorority stoles, and proud smiles marched into Gusman Concert Hall for the University of Miami’s 22nd Senior Mwambo.
“I appreciated the recognition of multicultural and ethnic diversity,” graduate Abigail Nichols said of the African rite of passage ceremony. “It gave us something familiar in a setting where we really are a minority.”
A tradition at UM for more than two decades, the Senior Mwambo marks the transition of black graduates from their lives at the University of Miami to the workforce, graduate/professional schools, and beyond.
For Nichols, who graduated from the UM College of Arts & Sciences with a B.S. in criminology and psychology, that transition from student to worker still includes the U. She already has a job waiting for her as a security supervisor for the UM Department of Housing and Residential Life. She plans to apply to graduate programs in forensic science for next fall.
Senior Mwambo includes four main symbolic components: food, to nourish the body and the spirit; music, to invoke God and the ancestral spirits; water, to represent the medium of life; and kente cloth, to symbolize African cultural identity.
Edmund Abaka, associate professor of history and chair of the Africana Studies Program, served as the presiding ceremonial elder. He led a ritual called “pouring libation,” describing it as “an important African religious rite to invoke the presence of the ancestors.”
The libation was performed in two languages, English and Twii. It included an invitation to God to receive drink, a blessing of the earth, and a blessing of respect to the ancestors. Libation ceremonies accompany all important life events, such as birth, marriage, and death.
“During the ceremony, we celebrate the achievements of our students of color, and we ask for the blessings of the ancestors as they make this transition,” Abaka explained.
Addressing the 2014 graduates, he added, “Today you embark on a journey. May you soar like eagles. We invoke our ancestors from the north, south, east, and west to celebrate you, encourage you, and see you through this transition.
“May your initiative, energy, creativity and wisdom be utilized for the benefit of yourselves, your families, your community, your nation, and your alma mater,” he continued. “Whatever your state, your situation, your condition in life, never forget to be humble.”
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education William Green also spoke to the graduates.
“We are blessed to be in a place that celebrates diversity as a political, cultural and social good,” he said. “Pluralism is a necessity for excellence in an educational setting. Homogeneity is the enemy of thought.”
He told them they have already left an indelible mark on the University of Miami and that now it is time for them to “step outside and use what you have learned here as a foundation to craft a life.
“Your presence and work, inside and outside the classroom, have made this a better place.”
Senior Mwambo was instituted at UM in 1992 by student Patrick A. Masala, B.S.C. ’93, who was from Malawi, East Africa, where Mwambo is a popular ritual. The annual ceremony at UM is organized by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.
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