Senator seeks graduation regalia for minority students

To make Augustana more inclusive, ASA curriculum chair Hailey Nold is introducing various graduation accommodations for different groups on campus including Native Americans and international students, but her proposal must first pass the graduation committee.

Nold said her high school honors Native Americans at graduation, and that sparked her idea for Augustana to do the same.

“At Washington High School we have a high percentage of students who are Native American, so it was really important to them to have a ceremony that was honoring the passing from childhood onto the next level of their life,” Nold said.

Nold wants to add a Native American blanket ceremony during graduation week.

Marissa Pacheco is one of the Native American students Nold reached out to about the new graduation accommodations, and Pacheco said she fully backs the idea.

“We do a graduation ceremony,” Pacheco said. “It’s a blanket ceremony. [Tribe representatives give graduates] the star quilt and they do the honor song with the drum. You’re presented with a plume or an eagle feather—a plume for women and an eagle feather for men.”

The plume or feather, a sign of achievement and honor, is blessed by a high official in the tribe and is presented to graduates to wear in their caps on graduation day.

“If Augie wants to be a diverse place and that’s one of our core values, then shouldn’t that show when people graduate?” Pacheco said. “Being able to represent yourself in some sort of way could increase enrollment for Native American students because they’ll feel more welcome here.”

Nold said she has also considered stoles that could be used to represent different Augustana students.

The Study Abroad International stole would be for international students or students who have studied abroad and would include the flag of the country.

The tribute stole would be for students joining the military or honoring a family member.

Lastly, the Stole of Gratitude would be worn in honor of someone who impacted the student’s academic journey and would be presented to the person after the graduation ceremony.

Such an adjustment would need approval from the graduation committee, which has typically denied non-academic additions to the graduation ceremony.

“In the past, discussions of having cords for anything other than academic honor societies have been denied,” Joni Krueger, registrar and chair of the graduation committee, wrote in an email. “We have chosen to keep the focus on academics. Once we start doing cords for involvement, it gets a little out of control and hard to maintain and inform people via the commencement program what the various cords are for.”

Mark Blackburn, acting Dean of Students, said he is seeking to change that.

“We need to pursue it,” Blackburn said. “It shows the greatness and the excellence of our students from all different walks of life.”

Junior Kirtana Krishna Kumar, an international student from India, said graduation transcends academic achievement and involves all of the experiences she has had as an international student in the four years she’ll be at Augustana.

“[Graduation is] definitely a lot more than just academics for me,” Krishna Kumar said.

Krishna Kumar said that many of her family members and friends have studied in the United States and they typically had an international stole at graduation, so Krishna Kumar believes that such a change at Augustana would be manageable.

Nold met with Krueger on Nov. 27. During the meeting, Krueger said students already have the ability to appropriately decorate graduation caps and military can wear uniforms during the graduation ceremony.

She also said that many international students are allowed to unzip their graduation gowns and display cultural attire, and the International Programs Office even hosts a reception for international students after the graduation ceremony in the arena.

Though Krueger rejected the idea of an international stole, Nold said there was the potential for a small flag of the student’s country to be included with the Augustana University pin that is handed to each graduate during the commencement.

Nold said she is still piecing together how to establish a blanket ceremony for Native American students.

For now, Nold said Native American students can put feathers in their graduation caps.

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