Cords and Stoles at Commencement

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The regalia celebrate affiliations that are important to graduating students.

Photos of graduating students wearing regalia
Students with stoles and cords at recent Commencements. The regalia signal affiliations with a variety of groups at Dartmouth. (Dartmouth photos)

From a distance, the roughly 1,200 seniors and hundreds of graduate and professional students who will be processing to the Green on Sunday form a sea of black caps and gowns, flowing gently, if the weather cooperates, in the breeze.

Look more closely, though, and you will see strips of color draped over many shoulders. Long narrow cords and wider stoles show membership or affiliations with a wide and increasing variety of groups, including sororities and fraternities, the First-Generation Office, house communities, Phi Beta Kappa, veterans’ associations, and the Native American Program.

“One of the first graduating classes to feature Native students wearing traditional regalia was the Class of 1988,” says N. Bruce Duthu, the Samson Occom Professor and chair of the Department of Native American and Indigenous Studies.

“The reasons motivating the choice to wear traditional Indigenous regalia at graduation are varied but are generally grounded in a desire to celebrate and honor the Indigenous communities and families and the Indigenous teachings that have nurtured, instructed, supported, and sustained these young people throughout their educational journeys, including during their years at Dartmouth. The regalia are specific to tribal affiliation and are often designed and produced by the students themselves with guidance and help from their families,” Duthu says.

Students wearing a Native American stole, and a blue and white flowered stole
(Photos by Eli Burakian ’00)

“Cords and stoles are provided to students by other organizations and offices, as well,” says Kathleen Cunneen, director of New Student Programs in the Office of Student Life, who oversees the undergraduate commencement experience.

Some students may also be processing with walking sticks, carved canes signaling membership in a senior society.

By accessorizing standard regalia, a student sends a visual message: “Please take note. This is important to me.”

Which is why College photographers will once again be on the lookout for these colorful cues as they roam the Green on Commencement weekend.

Charlotte Albright