Across the United States, graduation ceremonies are rowed with students garbed in traditional black or otherwise uniformly colored robes. You may notice a few colorful sashes worn by some students, called graduation stoles, showcasing hues that pop through the sea of single colored fabrics.
Denoting academic achievements or participation in extracurricular activities, stoles are worn over traditional gowns during graduation ceremonies. Around five inches in width, they're draped behind the neck over the student’s gown, each side flowing down the front and near the bottom of the garment. Stoles are typically a single base color that represents the wearer’s particular academic achievement or field of study. However, African American students around the US may showcase a more vibrant array of West African-inspired patterns and colors, called Kente stoles.
Kente is a colorful cloth of long bands of fabric woven together, composed of alternating patterns. Originating in what is now modern-day Ghana nearly 400 years ago, Kente signified royalty and was originally worn only by kings and queens. Kente is now worn by all types of people in Ghana, printed on banners, garments, and even shoes throughout the country as a sign of pride and tradition.
in 1958, independent Ghana’s first Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah visited the US President Eisenhower wearing Kente cloth, exposing the U.S. populace to the traditional patterns. Already in the throes of the civil rights movement, African Americans adopted the wearing and symbolism of the traditional Kente patterns and colors in embrace of their African heritage.
These days, African American students in high schools and colleges around the U.S. don kente graduation stoles their ceremonies, the symbolism echoing appropriately for the festive occasion: knowledge of the self and overcoming displacement and struggle throughout the African diaspora.