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The history and meaning of the stole of gratitude

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Graduating senior Patricia Wilson-Everett poses in her graduation gown and stole. Wilson-Everett is majoring in French and psychology.

As graduation approaches, the chances of seeing a student getting their graduation pictures taken around campus in their cap and gown are higher and higher. One feature some students choose to add to their graduation attire is a Stole of Gratitude. 

A Stole of Gratitude, according to the UA Bookstore website where students can purchase them, "is a lasting symbol of your achievement, worn proudly during your graduation ceremony."

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Also referred to as a sash, the stole is worn over the graduate’s robe around their shoulders, hanging down the front. 

Stoles represent the specific college the student is graduating from and can also showcase any honors the student is earning as well as the organizations the student was involved in. 

Along with college-specific stoles, the UA also offers two university stoles, according to Karen Sanson, sales representative and regalia buyer for the UA Bookstores.

“They’re both red, but one has got the embroidered university seal,” Sanson said. “The other university stole is also red, but it’s silk screen, so you have the three-colored ‘A’ on one side, and on the other side you have the university seal.”

There are a variety of colors of stoles that can be purchased, and each color correlates with a different college. These colors are not specific to the UA, however; they are likely the same at every other university.

According to TheClassroom.com," the colors usually follow a standard that’s recognized by most institutions in the United States.”

Sanson said that a few years before she took over the role of regalia purchasing, the university and Jostens, a memorabilia manufacturer, worked together to create the stoles of gratitude for the different colleges.

The UA Bookstore offers 14 different colored stoles

  • Maize for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Violet for the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture 
  • Light blue for the College of Education 
  • Black for the College of Fine Arts
  • Orange for the College of Engineering
  • Silver for the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Sciences
  • White for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Gold for the College of Science
  • Drab for the Eller College of Management
  • Maroon for the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Salmon pink for the Mel and Enid College of Public Health
  • Pink for the Fred Fox School of Music
  • White for the College of Humanities 
  • Green for Health and Sciences.

UA also offers a veterans’ stole and is considering bringing in active-duty military stoles as well, according to Sanson.

According to TheClassroom.com and GraduationSource.com, toles have existed since before caps and gowns and were used in the 12th century by Catholic and Anglican priests to specify their rank in the church. 

The idea eventually moved over into academia as well and, today, is considered part of tradition in the American education system.

Stoles are different from graduation cords. Some graduating students may also wear those during the ceremony. Cords represent honors students have achieved, which means a student could potentially have many, or few, cords, depending on their affiliations and achievements during their time as a student. 

Cords also come in different colors, each color representing a different type of honor or achievement. 

The Colgate University website website states that “after the ceremony, the new graduate presents the stole to someone who provided extraordinary help or support, like parents, relatives or mentors who have helped with wisdom, words of support or with financial assistance.” However, not all students adhere to this tradition.

“The idea of the Stole of Gratitude is it’s not required for graduation ... But, you can wear the stole, and after your commencement, the idea is you bestow it on someone who’s helped you through the college process,” Sanson said.

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This summer, there will be changes to some of the stoles, specifically for the physiology department, according to Sanson. They wanted to create a more personalized physiology stole and have been working with the licensing department and Jostens to put it together.

The Stole of Gratitude holds meaning for each graduate as it represents the college they have been a part of during their time at the university.


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