Celebrating students of color and the power of mentorship

Nearly 150 students participated in the Stoling Ceremony, an important Commencement weekend tradition celebrating the achievements of students of color and their Mount Holyoke mentors.

Excitement was in the air the evening of Friday, May 19, 2023, as 148 members of the class of 2023, dressed all in black, processed into Chapin Auditorium for one of their most highly anticipated traditions, the Stoling Ceremony.

Started in 2005, the Stoling Ceremony allows graduating students of color to celebrate their achievements with a mentor — an employee of Mount Holyoke who has inspired and supported them during their time at the College. In return, mentors bestow on the student a Kente cloth or satin cloth stole that is embroidered with “MHC” and three special symbols — a diamond to signify wealth and knowledge, a key to represent the key to knowledge and a spool to reflect leadership and unity.

Reflecting on how the Stoling Ceremony became an important part of Commencement weekend activities, Associate Dean for Community and Belonging Latrina L. Denson explained that the tradition was “established by faculty and staff of color across multiple departments before [her] arrival at Mount Holyoke as a way to acknowledge the accomplishments of students of color who graduate, especially from predominantly white institutions (PWIs), and honor the elders/mentors who contributed to their success.”

This tradition is now planned by the Student Government Association’s Students of Color Committee (SOCC), under the advisement of Denson. “It is an honor and a privilege to assist in the continuation of this tradition while also giving the ceremony an official home through the collaboration of both the Office of Community and Belonging and the SGA Students of Color Committee,” said Denson.

In planning the event, Kelechi Ezeugwu ’23, one of the lead organizers and co-chair of the SOCC, hoped that in addition to celebrating the graduates and mentors, the ceremony can help reinforce the power of mentorship to attendees. “I hope that they can see the importance of finding and serving as mentors for others in their own lives.”

“For me, Stoling Ceremony is a really meaningful event because it allows us to recognize the people who have helped us become who we are,” Ezeugwu continued. “As a student of color at a PWI, mentorship has played an important role in my wellness and success. This ceremony allows graduates to not only celebrate our own achievements but also acknowledge and celebrate with those who helped us get there.”

Interim President Beverly Daniel Tatum offered congratulations to the seniors, recognizing their determination to reach this important milestone. Before she left the stage, the members of the SOCC bestowed a stole on Dr. Tatum to honor the profound impact she has had on the Mount Holyoke community.

The seniors then heard from trustee Rhynette Northcross Hurd ’71, who served as this year’s alum speaker.

“I know you because I heard about your successes over the last four years,” said Hurd. “It was a turbulent time, but you have survived. No — you thrived! And after Sunday, you will be ready for the world.”

Hurd, also a proud yellow sphinx, reminded the class of 2023 of what their class symbol means: “Sphinxes ask questions — they also give answers.” In closing, Hurd advised the graduates, saying, “You may not have all the answers, but you have the tools. You’re one of us now. You’re not only a Mount Holyoke alum; you’re also a yellow sphinx. And you’re ready.”

The decision of who to select as a mentor is not made lightly. As Ezeugwu shared, “I chose my mentor, Latrina Denson, because she is a figure that has been consistently present in my life since my first year at Mount Holyoke. I wanted to acknowledge her for the care, respect and guidance she has shown me.”

Olivia Wilson ’23 with mentor and father Lucas Wilson, professor of Africana studies and economics
Olivia Wilson ’23 with mentor and father Lucas Wilson, professor of Africana studies and economics

One particularly moving moment was when Olivia Wilson ’23 invited her “favorite professor, scholar, mentor and father,” Lucas Wilson, professor of Africana studies and economics, to stole her.

Once all of the students were honored, Area Coordinator Mary Inge asked the seniors to consider what “the recipe for a life well lived” looked like for them as part of the blessing and sending. Then the soon-to-be graduates gathered for a class photograph and processed out of the hall, ready for the next traditions that will help to close out their time as students.

“I have had conversations with many of those faculty and staff of color who created and organized the ceremony by raising funding from various departments to ensure that it happens,” said Denson, reflecting on the evolution of this important tradition. “During that time, I do not think they ever imagined we would have close to 150 students of color participating in the Stoling Ceremony.”

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