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Grads earn diplomas, Nursing pins, and kente stoles to make York College history

August 12, 2019
Caramie Tshimanga and Semirat Ajisafe stand with Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith
Caramie Tshimanga and Semirat Ajisafe stand with Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith, President of York College after Kente Ceremony.

Crossing a stage to receive a college diploma marks a significant achievement in the lives of young people. For two York College of Pennsylvania graduates, receiving their Bachelor of Science degrees in Nursing on May 18 was just a third of their celebration of success.

At two other gatherings, Caramie Tshimanga and Semirat Ajisafe received their Nursing pins with their classmates, and in a ceremony with cultural ties to Africa, each was presented with a kente stole. For Caramie, the multicolored kente cloth represents sacrifice and gratitude. For Semirat, it symbolizes struggle and achievement. It was the first time two York College graduates had taken part in all three ceremonies.

“Having my parents both sacrifice a lot for me to have the best education I could possibly have and being able to participate in a ceremony that has roots to their ancestry and culture is very meaningful,” Caramie says of the kente presentation. Her father is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and her mother is from Haiti. The family lives in Rockville, Maryland. Her parents were at the ceremony where college President Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith presented the stoles.

For Semirat, the kente speaks of determination. “When I first came here, I was very quiet and timid. It was hard to engage with a lot of people,” says the Easton, Pennsylvania, native whose parents emigrated from Nigeria. She joined the African Students Association and became a resident assistant (RA).

“I feel I’ve grown a lot. Being presented with this shows how far I’ve come since my first year here,” she explains. “And it means a lot because of a lot of discrimination I’ve gone through and still coming out and obtaining this degree. It’s kind of like celebrating that.”

A cultural nod to achievement

The kente cloth originated in Ghana. Legend holds that two farmers in the Ashanti kingdom, which became Ghana, tried to replicate the beauty of a spider’s web by weaving a pattern in a fabric, which they presented to their king.

The cloth’s patterns and colors have meanings. Traditionally, blue signifies love, green represents growth, white stands for goodness. Though it originated in western Africa, the kente more commonly is presented in the United States, often when students of color earn their college degree.

Caramie and Semirat designed their kente stoles online. Caramie chose the traditional colors of the Ghanaian cloth. For Semirat, two colors mattered most, and she assigned her own meanings to them. “I chose green and white primarily because they are the colors of the Nigerian flag and I wanted to pay homage to my culture in my achievements,” she says. “My culture played a huge role in my approach to school.”

Finding the right fit

York College appealed to Semirat and Caramie because they could enter the Nursing program as first-year students without taking unrelated courses first. Caramie also liked what she describes as the intimacy of the school. “I found the smaller class sizes would help in the future in terms of having the ability of professors to know who I am as an individual,” she says. Her mother is a microbiologist, and her father is an entrepreneur with a focus in business and finance. She grew up loving the sciences and human relations.

In high school, Semirat wasn’t sure about a career. “My mom is a nurse. I thought about going to be a doctor,” she says. She applied at multiple colleges to study pre-med or nursing. Her mother, she says, “always advocates for nursing.” “She thinks I’m really nurturing and caring,” Semirat says. “I didn’t listen to that at first, but after a little more research I thought that would be the best choice for me.”

Both graduates plan to take the Registered Nurse exam. Caramie, who also majored in Spanish, gained extensive experience in intensive care during college and hopes to work in critical care. Semirat spent much of her last semester in the neonatal intensive care unit. She wants to work in that setting.

Reflecting on college

Caramie says she found welcoming students and accommodating professors at York College. “My overall experience was amazing,” she says. “I had the luxury of having an education that was very diverse. The campus as a whole helped me feel at home even though I was away from home.”

Semirat says she had “a lot of ups and downs” in college. But, through them she gained strength, which her kente celebrates. “It took a lot of me going out of myself and pushing myself outside my comfort zone,” she says. “I was going outside the Nursing curriculum – being an RA, the president of the African Students Association and other activities -- and it really helped my experience be more memorable and helped me develop my own voices within these leadership opportunities.

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