Saint Mary’s students petition for change in Commencement policy
Jordan Cockrum | Tuesday, April 10, 2018
This week, Saint Mary’s students will present letters to College President Jan Cervelli and her cabinet, arguing for a policy shift regarding commencement attire.
Currently, the College allows for graduates to wear stoles, honors cords and medals at the Baccalaureate Mass and Honors Convocation, but only honors cords and medals at the commencement ceremony.
As outlined in the Saint Mary’s Governance Manual, the only exceptions to this rule are on a case-by-case basis and must be recommended by an academic department with approval from the President. These exceptions are in place so as ”not to distract from the general uniformity of the academic regalia,” according to the Manual.
“Based upon this, it’s how ‘discrete’ whatever else we’re talking about is, and how distracting ‘from the general uniformity of the academic regalia,’” College Marshal Joseph Incandela said in an email. “The judgment has been made that things like honor cords and medals for presidential scholars fall into that category [of discrete attire] while things like stoles do not.”
Seniors MaKayla Roberts and Taylor Thomas are among the students that disagree with this policy.
“Yes, when we graduate we will all be class of 2018, and yes, we’ll all have the identity of being Belles, but that stole recognizes that not everyone’s experience on Saint Mary’s campus was the same,” Thomas said. “…There are things that need to be improved, and we need to recognize the differences that each Belle brings to Saint Mary’s. And while we’ve improved over the years, we still have lots of improvements to make. And that’s what the stoles represent when we wear them at graduation.”
Roberts said in an email that wearing a stole would recognize her achievements beyond her schoolwork, including founding the Black Student Association.
“It shows all the hard work and accomplishments that we have done out of the classroom,” Roberts said. “The stoles mean something different for everyone, but for me, it shows all the hard work I have done to build a new club — The Black Student Association — and to bring awareness to campus.”
Thomas and Roberts argue that there is no difference in recognizing honors cords versus extracurricular engagement. Roberts said that stoles would allow students to celebrate their entire college experience at Commencement.
“Students should be able to showcase individual accomplishments at Commencement because college is so much more than just grades and what students do in the classroom,” Roberts said. “Everyone who is graduating from Saint Mary’s has a different story and the different stole that we wear show that. Not everyone who is graduating has honors cords, but this day is something so much more than just displaying academic honors.”
Allowing students to wear stoles at Commencement, Roberts said, would demonstrate the role Saint Mary’s has in developing the whole woman.
“Saint Mary’s brings people together and helps them find their identity,” Roberts said. “These stoles show where everyone found their place. When we came here we received a shirt that said, ‘We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe, and your place in it.’ These stoles show where we found our place in the universe and at Saint Mary’s, so them telling us we can’t wear them is like them taking away a part of our identity.”
The current policy places the emphasis on the class of graduates as a group, Incandela said.
“The point is that at Commencement — which is the most formal academic ceremony the College holds — the focus is on students as members of a class,” Incandela said. “There are other opportunities, such as the Honors Convocation, where individual achievement is the main focus. Commencement, however, primarily celebrates a new class of graduates.”
While Thomas sees the value in the idea of sisterhood, she said she finds the emphasis on group identity during Commencement to detract from the individual experiences of the graduates.
“I also think the use of sisterhood kind of masks the struggles that a lot of students who are from low-income backgrounds, or students of color, or girls who have a different sexuality on this campus —the struggles they go through on this campus,” Thomas said. “It masks all of that when we just keep claiming sisterhood.”
Thomas said that while some of her friends do not understand the importance of donning a stole at Commencement, she feels it represents her experience in an authentic way. For her, it shows that she can make a difference.
“I guess it’s not that big of a deal when you’ve had a perfect experience on Saint Mary’s campus,” Thomas said. “But for someone who hasn’t, like me, and who wants to see change on campus it’s important to be able to proudly show that though it was not perfect, I made it, and I’m here and I want to improve it for the next girl who comes.”