How do you organise an event that encapsulates community and celebrates the achievements of our graduates, during a global pandemic? Find out how ALA pulled off one of the most memorable graduation ceremonies yet!
On Thursday, 18th June 2020, African Leadership Academy had the honor of hosting its first-ever virtual graduation ceremony, giving the entering Class of 2018 the send-off they deserved – despite the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch these congratulatory messages below from Fred Swaniker, Strive Masiyiwa, Youssou N’Dour, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Reeta Roy, Folawe Omikunle, Rima Tahini ’10, Tapiwa Gambura ’17 and Adnan Shafi ’17.
Conceptualized by Director of Creative Arts and Events, Dr Sarah Kgagudi and her student-led graduation committee; and moderated by ALA Science faculty member and environmentalist, Dr Demilade Fayemiwo, the virtual event saw students take to the digital stage thanks to Zoom and YouTube. Graduates were celebrated by their family members, fellow peers, ALA staff, and the wider community in what has gone down as one of ALA’s most heartwarming graduation ceremonies to date.
“Normally, for our community events, we transform the campus by hiring gazebos, delivering special snacks or meals and decorating our gathering space. By visually transforming our campus from the way we see it daily, this communicates to us that something special is happening” said Dr Kgagudi a few weeks before the ceremony. “Our ‘normal’ has transformed over the past few months, and our hope is that our online Graduation Ceremony will be visually privileged this year and will feel different than other online community engagements.”
The graduation committee succeeded in bringing this vision to life in an exceptional way. Through laptops and other mobile screens (devices that have become synonymous with disconnection), the community was able to share this momentous occasion – together. Staff members who have not been on campus in months were able to share a beautiful moment with students once more; parents, tuning in from their living rooms, filled the digital air with ululations, personalised posters and balloons in celebration of their children’s achievements; and ALA alums shared their virtual renditions of the classic ALA snaps – and this unique moment in time being experienced by over 600 people in a space on the internet.
Moreover, some of ALA’s much-loved communal customs were replicated in the digital sphere. From moving musical pieces to thought-provoking speeches, participants and spectators were made to feel as if they were right on our leafy Honeydew campus.
Speaking of the campus, the graduation committee created a virtual version of the ALA quad, where members of the community left heartfelt voicenotes to the fresh ALA graduates, who got to access these right after their ceremony. “Last year I was touched by the feeling of support our graduates encountered in the moments after our Graduation Ceremony. To the sweet tunes of ALApella, our community flooded onto the soccer field and the quad to hug, congratulate and perhaps bid ‘farewell for now’ to our graduates. I wanted to recreate this feeling by creating a ‘Virtual Quad’ filled with voice notes from advisors, teachers, staff, Y1s, parents, family and friends supporting them, congratulating them and bidding them ‘farewell for now,” says Dr Kgagudi.
Four members of the graduating class were specially honoured for their contributions to the community. Skylar Grace Montague Redecke (Morocco/USA) received the Dean Christopher Khaemba Award for Academic Excellence, named after ALA’s first Dean. Thaksheel Nirvaan Alleck (Mauritius) received the Sani Prize, an award that recognizes the student whose tireless effort, innovative solutions and commitment to excellence serves to further the mission, vision, and values of ALA in the spirit of Mr. Iliyasu Adinoyi Sani, an African pioneer and member of the inaugural ALA faculty. Tapiwa Gambura (Zimbabwe) received the Spirit of Africa Award; and Kenza Slaoui (Morocco) received the Leadership Award.
Reflecting on her experience as a graduand that day, Class of 2018 member, Jemimah Atahigwa (Uganda), says the event meant a lot to her, despite the desire to experience a ‘normal’ graduation ceremony. “ I think the Class of 2018 will be pinned as the class that has had the most unique graduation to date,” she says. “Even though we weren’t able to celebrate each other face-to-face, we got to celebrate one another nonetheless. People clapped and cheered each other on in the corridors, and the graduation team made sure our internet connections were good, and parents were able to see us go through this special ceremony – making it a beautiful experience for me.”
For Dr Kgagudi, she says, “I strongly believe that the most important element of our ritual gatherings has never been the venue, but rather the sense of community that we create when we enter it.” So, in many ways, this virtual graduation has given the Class of 2018 early preparation for keeping in touch with the lifelong friends they’ve made during their transformative journey, who will most likely be starting out their next chapters in different corners of the world. With that, we would like to say congratulations Class of 2018. We wish you all the best!
Did You Know?
ALA’s class naming convention follows the year of entry as opposed to the year of graduation because we believe that once you enter the ALA network, you never truly leave.
Missed the ceremony, or want to watch it once more? Visit YouTube here for the recorded live stream