Angles: Should participation in sports, university programs and campus organizations be recognized by graduation regalia?

For the 2021 undergraduate commencement ceremony, the President’s Council, with consultation from the Commencement and Honorary Degrees Committee has approved for students to wear pins on their robes or stoles noting involvement in athletics, campus organizations, programs and departments. The pins are an addition to the already approved commencement ornamentation of Verdier award medallions, gold Civitas stoles, summa cum laude cords and official honor society cords. The pins must be 2 inches or smaller in diameter.

An email sent to graduating seniors asked that students wear pins — rather than non-approved stoles, cords or medallions — “to avoid diminishing the visual differentiation of academic achievement and excellence during the conferring of degrees.”

Augustana nursing students have previously received pins from their department at a separate pinning ceremony the evening before graduation. With the addition of a School of Education and School of Music, those graduates may now have a  pin from their department this year.

All Augie graduates already receive a pin: an ‘A’ recognizing the students’ new status as Augustana alumni.

Some worry that additional regalia will distract from graduation’s celebration of academic honors and achievements. Others want their dedication to the campus outside of academics to be recognized at commencement.

The addition of pins is not yet permanent and will be evaluated after this year’s commencement ceremony.

Yes, hardwork, dedication should be appreciated

Merriam Hagadorn

Student athletes deserve recognition at graduation with stoles. Less than 5% of high school student athletes go on to college athletics, whereas around 70% of high school students enroll in college. 

Student athletes are some of the hardest working people on campus. We spend a minimum of 20 hours a week training, in addition to the full academic load. This doesn’t include time spent on recovery, team meetings, team bonding events, traveling, competitions or volunteering for fundraisers which can range from 20 to 48 hours a week. In addition to our athletic requirements, we are still expected to maintain our grades, have a social life and a relationship with professors, participate in clubs and possibly maintain jobs on top of that. 

While we are using that time to focus on our academics, student athletes very visibly represent the school. Augustana’s goal is to have academics and athletics be in sync. To maintain balance, student athletes have to perform in multiple arenas in addition to those expected of the average student. This additional effort should be recognized with stoles. 

Personally, and I know for many, participating in athletics is an essential part of being able to afford a higher education. I’m extremely grateful that Augie provides students with multiple opportunities and ways to obtain its education. But it is also important for Augie to recognize those that have represented the school in other ways at commencement. 

Being a student athlete is very challenging and time consuming. For the majority of us student athletes, commencement is the last time we get to represent the larger Augustana community. We have spent years and thousands of hours training for these sports. Not allowing student athletes to wear stoles for graduation is a refusal to acknowledge the dedication and hard work spent during their time representing Augie.

I understand that commencement is a time to celebrate the hard-earned education we have received. Stoles for student athletes would simply acknowledge the additional work that is required of this select group of students. 

An argument against giving student athletes the option to wear stoles at graduation is that it wouldn’t be fair to other groups such as choir, music and theater. These other activities are often part of the students major or minor, thus represented in the academic honor programs. Not everyone has the athletic ability to be on a collegiate level team, and those that do should be recognized.

Overall, giving student athletes the option to wear stoles at graduation would display and elevate the support that Augie provides. 

I’m proud of how I was able to obtain a higher education and represent my school. 

Why isn’t Augie proud of my hard work, dedication and representation?

No, graduation meant to recognize academics

Andrew Struck

In May 2017 I graduated from Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls with a 3.95 GPA — the top of my law enforcement science class. When I received my graduation gown, cap and cord, I frowned with disappointment as I looked around the room. I thought to myself, “One golden cord? Really?”

Earning top of the class distinctions earned me the same golden cord as the students who earned a 3.50 GPA in their time at Southeast. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I was nearly outraged. Take a moment to consider the following: Could a student who earned above a 3.9 GPA have worked harder in school? The answer’s no. Take it from me.

Graduation cords don’t distinguish the top students from the rest of the student body. Graduation cords are an unmistakable piece of regalia for college students who excelled in the classroom. The athletes, student body leaders, international students, quiet students, students who aren’t afraid to stand up for others and students who put their whole heart and mind into their academic career are the students who proudly wear these cords over their graduation gowns.

The cords don’t tell a story about what the students did in their time on or off campus as they pursued their degree(s). Instead, we tell those stories. At Augustana, student athletes know in their heart and in their mind that they left it all on the field or the court. They persevered, they overcame odds and they won national championships. The student leaders of the Augustana Student Association (ASA), and presidents and vice presidents of campus student organizations stood up for the disadvantaged, the systemically underrepresented and the Sioux Falls community members who needed their help.

Special graduation stoles or cords for students who participate in extracurricular activities would have unintended consequences. Most importantly, they would diminish the significance and merit of regalia cords given to students who graduate with cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude, national honor society or Civitas program honors. Special cords shouldn’t represent what we participated in during our time as students of Augustana University. Moreover, special stoles could never tell a story about the impact we made on and off campus through our extracurricular activities.

No amount of special graduation stoles acknowledging our student athletes and national champions could accurately be depicted through special regalia. No special stoles or cords could accurately identify the sacrifices made by some ASA representatives who tirelessly collaborated with the campus community to demand change on campus.

A push by some students demanding a more inclusive commencement environment by means of new, special regalia for certain groups of students who participated in certain extracurricular activities has repeatedly been denied by campus officials — a decision I fully support.

Ceremonial, academic cords date as far back as the 14th Century. Graduation regalia and cords given to the students who achieved the highest academic honors don’t divide the student body. Rather, our cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude and Civitas honors cords and other academic-focused stoles unify the students who pursue academics above all else. These traditional cords and stoles further dignify Augustana graduates who tirelessly pursue academic excellence, at the expense of any number of other things and passions.

Our traditional cords are not a flamboyant symbol of academic excellence serving as a reminder for all those who earn them that they’re somehow better students than those who don’t wear the cords. The traditional cords and stoles celebrate those graduates who repeatedly achieved outstanding academic achievement throughout their time at AU, honor society members and covenant award recipients. Demanding certain new stoles and cords for individuals who participated in certain extracurricular activities or programs would, in fact, devalue our traditional stoles and cords, therefore discrediting the extraordinary efforts of the university’s highest performing students — much to the detriment of this year’s graduating seniors and all those who will come after them, as well as those who came before them. 

2 responses to “Angles: Should participation in sports, university programs and campus organizations be recognized by graduation regalia?”

  1. Just as a note, Augustana only gives honor chords to those that graduate with Summa Cum Laude honors– those that graduate with magna Cum Laude or Cum Laude get nothing from the university as far as chords.

  2. Hence the last paragraph. Haha

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