A graduation stole is a sash-like garment worn by some students at high school and college commencement ceremonies. Draped around the neck and over the shoulders of the gown, graduation stoles are typically worn to highlight a student’s academic or extracurricular achievement, or their affiliation with a particular group or field of study. Valedictorians and salutatorians wear stoles, as do commencement speakers. Student council members, honor societies, sororities and fraternities are also distinguished by their stoles. Specific degree programs are represented by a color standard recognized by most colleges and universities throughout the United States. For example, Math and Science majors wear yellow stoles and Engineering majors wear orange stoles in most colleges and universities.
Wearing a stole can also hold deeper cultural significance. Kente stoles are becoming increasingly popular among students of African American descent, who might wear them to honor their heritage or to recognize the struggles of displacement from Africa. Adopting the intricately woven patterns and colors of the 400 year old Ghanaian tradition, Kente stoles are often gifted to participating students during a separate ceremony called a ‘Donning of the Kente’ that precedes the graduation commencement.
The tradition of the ‘Donning of the Kente’ began in 1993, when four faculty members of West Chester University wanted to recognize the obstacles overcome by African American students over the course of their education. They have since become popular in schools across America, with thousands of students walking the stage with Kente stoles every year. While the majority of Kente stoles are worn by African American students, graduates from other ethnic minority groups have adopted the tradition as well.