Meeting Jonelle Hankton, it’s easy to see how she became the captain of the Alcorn State University Golden Girls team for the 2024-2025 school term. Jonelle posed for pictures and videos for the Alcorn State University Division of Marketing and Communication. Placed on the spot, she closed her eyes for a few moments and softly swayed to the music, rehearsing counts in her head. As the chorus began to play, Jonelle opened her eyes and connected with the camera, instantly exuding the craft and showmanship that are hallmarks of the ASU Golden Girls team.

A junior, criminal justice major from New Orleans, Louisiana, Jonelle’s love for dance began at an early age.

“I’ve been dancing my whole life since I was 10 years old. When I got to high school, I danced up until my 11th grade year,” she said.

In addition to participating on the dance team for Eleanor McMain High School, Jonelle’s passion led her to dance after school and on weekends.

“I also was dancing for Original Divas School of Dance and Fleur De Dance Company. So, I had two community teams that I was on as well.”

Jonelle decided to become a Golden Girl her junior year in high school and cites the group as what recruited her to the University.

“I came to Alcorn really truly for Golden Girls. That was really my passion. Dance is my passion. My education as well, but it was mainly Golden Girls.”

Now Jonelle is captain of the team she once admired from afar. During the 2024-2025 academic year, Jonelle will spend her senior year engrossed in the sport that she loves. She has big plans for the upcoming year.

“I hope to bring energy to the team and consistency. Consistency is big. I just want us to be better than we were last year. I just really want to be able to continue the beautiful legacy that it is, cause it’s amazing. I want to continue to hold those high standards and bring this team up and up, so that when I leave, I know that they’re good, like I did my job,” she laughed.

Many spectators may not know the skill and dedication it takes for the students to perform exceptionally at each showcase. Jonelle shared that the season starts with band camp, with each dancer rising to condition their physical bodies at 5:30 a.m. As the school year gets underway, practice starts at 5:30 p.m. and runs well into the evening. After a full day of classes, work, internships and more, the students come together to do what they love. But it’s not all fun and games, it takes discipline, skill, and agility.

“It takes a lot of hard work, dedication. It’s really a mind thing as well,” Jonelle said. “It really teaches you a lot in life like how to prioritize everything like dance, school, outside things like family. It teaches you how to communicate and work with other people,” she shared. “When I came here, I was kind of shy. But Golden Girls really got me out of my box, so I’m able to communicate with people and build strong bonds. People really become family.”

Jonelle believes that her time as a Golden Girl will assist her in life and her career. She ultimately wants to become an attorney.

 “My goal is to graduate college and go to law school, and further my education.”  “I feel like it [Golden Girls] really works on my leadership skills and communication.”

As she studies hard to become an attorney, her sorority and the sisterhood of Golden Girls fill the rest of her social calendar. She recently joined Tau Beta Sigma, a co-educational service sorority for band members, founded in 1946.

As captain, Jonelle has new responsibilities that she hasn’t had before. Still, she is excited and prepared for her new role.

“Captain is a big responsibility,” she said. “Everything is in your hands. You have to make sure your team is good. Not just you, but everybody on the team. You have a lot that you have to do as far as like making up [routines], making sure people are at practice on time, and stuff like that. It’s very different from just being a regular member. Now it’s like I’m actually having to lead people.”

Jonelle cites her strong training and powerful mentorship as what prepared her to take on this role.

She highlights former captain Kevia Davis and Golden Girls sponsor Dr. Kecia Ashley as some key mentors in her life from dance.

“Dr. Ashley is a mentor and the person who is always there for me. She pushed me a lot of times when I just wanted to give up, just drop everything and just give up. But she’s one of those people who, she’s going to stick by your side. She’s always there. She’s kind, she’s loving.”

“Kevia was my captain when I arrived. So, she basically taught me everything that I know. She helped me be who I am today as a Golden Girl.”

Jonelle believes that attending Alcorn was a great choice and would recommend the University to prospective students and aspiring dancers.

“Alcorn in general? I love Alcorn. My freshman year  I dealt with a lot of hard things, hard drama in my life. I lost my mom and my dad my freshman year. Alcorn was there for me. I’m saying, the school period, they really supported me. The people on campus supported me and made sure I was good. They gave me the time that I needed. And you know, it’s just always family-oriented with Alcorn.”

While Jonelle inspires young girls to dance and to attend the University, she also wants them to take their education seriously.

“Coming to Alcorn, I would say you’ve got to be very strong-minded. Know how to survive because we’re in the middle of nowhere,” she laughed. “Learn how to be open too, because that helps a lot. Talk to people. Communicate because you never know who you may need, or who you may need to call on. And just take your education seriously and keep pushing and achieving!”

Jonelle shared some final thoughts of inspiration for aspiring dancers.

“With dance, if this is your goal, and this is something that you really want to do, put your best foot forward. Give it 1000% percent every time. Know how to take constructive criticism because when you come into a collegiate team—or any team period—a lot of young girls have to realize you’re adapting to a style. The style is not adapting to you. So, you have to be able to take constructive criticism and grow and learn if it is something that you really want to do because it’s not easy. I’m still growing myself even though I am the captain. Everybody has room to grow. And always put your best foot forward and go hard!”