Shining new light on ancient traditions
Although this year’s Baccalaureate service was a testament to flexibility, one tradition remained unchanged.
The pouring of libation — an ancient ritual in which a liquid is poured as an offering, or in memory of the dead — was performed by jointly by Cooper Nelson and Associate Professor of Africana Studies Keisha-Khan Perry, in honor of Anani Dzidzienyo, a revered scholar, mentor and educator at Brown who died last October after more than four decades of research and teaching at the University.
It was Dzidzienyo himself who taught Cooper Nelson the libation tradition and championed its annual inclusion in the Baccalaureate. He also worked with Cooper Nelson to revise the ceremony in 1991 to incorporate prayers and blessings performed in native languages, as well as cultural traditions that represent the homes of members of the student body — touchstones that have come to define Baccalaureate at Brown.
After the second iteration of the “new” Baccalaureate, Cooper Nelson said Dzidzienyo stopped her in the street. “He told me, ‘We talk a lot about diversity, but at Baccalaureate, I see it — and I see with depth and with content,’” she said.
Dzidzienyo’s influence on the University can’t be overstated, Cooper Nelson said, and he worked intentionally and ceaselessly to create an environment that helped to celebrate and support students of color, like Jordan.
She could see that influence when Jordan stepped into the role of Brown trustee and shared his passion, and purpose, for work to advance diversity and inclusion on campus: “With Steven coming from South Phoenix and Anani coming from Accra, they're like a pincer movement, helping Brown to get smarter about what we need to learn,” Cooper Nelson said. “We will continue to learn from the Steven Jordans and the Ananis as they keep talking to us. When you ask me why Steven Jordan seemed to the honorary degree committee a person to be honored, it is precisely because of his ability to both love Brown dearly, but to also hold us accountable.”