Today, hundreds of students graduated from the University of Ghana, Legon. Two colleagues and I went to the ceremony to cover it for the campus radio station that I work for, Student Univers. The graduation was held at my favorite place on campus and maybe one of the prettiest spots in the entire city, their great hall. Perched atop a hill overlooking all of Accra, a series of red-roofed and whitewashed buildings with black trim rest among sprawling gardens and rows of palm trees. On an overcast day like today, it even looked a little like home.
After climbing all the way to the top, we walked past rows of chairs under great white tents in the main courtyard, towards the main hall. As we stood outside waiting for the graduation to begin, we heard drum beats and looked over to the entrance to see a procession of dancers making their way down the aisle between the tents. Ten or so women led this march, bowing, dipping and spinning to the beat that the drummers behind them made. Clad in white tops and matching colorful skirts and head wraps, they were followed by four men, shirtless, playing the large drums that hung from their necks. Following them were more male dancers, moving to the rhythm of the lively song that they were all singing together. And just in case that all wasn’t enough, a man clad in colorful kente cloth carried a large, gold-tipped staff rounded out the procession. I stood watching them all pass by, a little dumbstruck. They bobbed and weaved, clapping their hands and waving white handkerchiefs to the beat, all singing along with the thunderous beat. I laughed as I leaned over to tell my coworker, “This is so cool!” I fought the urge to move and dance along with them like my coworker was—it was so darn catchy—for fear of looking like “that oburuni.” But these guys were killin’ it. The procession entered the great hall, now followed by a long double line of faculty and professors, all wearing black robes with colorful trim and little poufy caps that were very ‘Harry Potter.’
As we moved to enter the great hall, the procession seemed to do a 180 and spilled back into the courtyard and started to make their way back to where they had come from. The great hall was filled with black-robed graduates, packed into rows facing a steep, impressive stage decorated in gold for the event. As I half-listened to the Vice Chancellors dry graduation speech, (which was void of the usual glib, inspirational prose, instead mostly just proclamations on the university’s future) I marveled at the intersection of the vibrant African touches—the lively drums and colorful outfits—with facets of bygone English influences. But mostly I just thought about how we were going to get those musicians to do the opening of our graduation in Eugene next June.