Ceremony honors graduating students of color, mentors

More than 120 students participated in the twentieth annual Stoling Ceremony. The Commencement weekend tradition celebrates the achievements of students of color and honors their Mount Holyoke mentors.

Embraces were exchanged, tears were shed and students of color and their mentors were cheered for at Chapin Auditorium during the twentieth annual Stoling Ceremony on the evening of Friday, May 17, 2024.

In addition to honoring the graduating students and their mentors, President Holley and Quanita (Q) Hailey FP ’14 were also recognized for their profound contributions to the College's community of color.

The Stoling Ceremony, first held in May 2005, is an opportunity for graduating students of color along with staff, faculty, their families and friends to get together and celebrate their achievements. The event was one of many affinity-based celebrations to take place prior to Commencement, including the Lavender Ceremony, the International Senior Ceremony, the Fearless First cording ceremony, the Jumma Lunch for seniors, the Commencement Shabbat, and the Blessing and Sending event.

“I’m so proud to be a part of a community that values the mentoring connection,” said President Danielle R. Holley.

“A mentor is like a light in the dark. The light doesn’t always have to do the work for you. It doesn’t actively take you on your journey, but it illuminates the path and helps you understand where you are on your journey.”

The event is sponsored by the Student Government Association (SOCC) and the Office of Community and Belonging, and it is advised by Associate Dean of Students for Community and Belonging Latrina L. Denson.

The ceremony also gives graduating students of color the opportunity to reflect on their journeys at Ƶapp and acknowledge a mentor who inspired and supported them.

“It’s an opportunity to celebrate the people who have been so important to our college careers,” said graduating student Anoushka Singh Kuswaha ’24, who majored in politics. “The fact that we get to choose the individual … it can be any staff or faculty member. … It places a lot of value on the relationships that we've built as students of color while interacting with the institution and acknowledges really nicely that while a lot of the relationships are academic, they also have become more personal as the years have gone by.”

President Holley was the first to be honored with a stole after she welcomed the class of 2024 and congratulated them on reaching such a significant milestone. The class honored her for the powerful impact she has had on the Mount Holyoke community.

Hailey, who served as this year’s alum speaker, was the next to be honored. She is the creator of the annual Trailblazers of Color Leadership Conference. The conference, which is now run by the SOCC, celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. Hailey continues to be a vital force in the conference, returning annually to give the opening charge and mentoring students in the SOCC.

As a beacon for change, Hailey is dedicated to creating a loving, supportive and vibrant community of students of color and her contributions have helped transform the campus. And for this, Hailey was presented with the stole of the Elder.

As part of the ceremony, the 122 graduating students of color, dressed all in black, presented their mentors with a carnation and their mentors bestowed on them traditional Kente cloths or satin sashes embroidered with “MHC” and three symbols: a diamond to signify wealth and knowledge, a key to represent the key to knowledge and a spool to reflect leadership and unity.

Some students even took the time to offer personal remarks to their mentors. One such student was Lifen Htet ’24, who is majoring in neuroscience and behavior.

“Today, I am honoring my favorite professor, Laura Sizer, for her unconditional love and support. I wouldn’t be here without her,” said Htet.

Another student, Maille Romulus ’24, who is double majoring in gender studies and politics, also seized the opportunity to honor her mentor.

“Everyone bear with me; I’m a Leo and she’s a Leo,” said Romulus, who was met with a roar of laughter. “Today and forever, and yesterday, I’m honoring my mentor, the person I look up to, the one I want to be like when I grow up, Vice President for the Department of Equity and Inclusion Kijua Sanders-McMurtry.”

And it would seem that the students have had quite an impact on their mentors as well.

Yaldira Felix Castro, assistant director and pre-law advisor for the Career Development Center, described the event as particularly emotional. Year after year, Felix Castro mentors multiple students.

“It’s such a joy. I love my life,” said Felix Castro.

Jared Schwartzer, associate professor of psychology and education, director of the Science Center, and chair of geology and geography, described neuroscience and behavior graduating senior Shanthini Ragoonaden ’24 as a “natural leader.”

Initially, Ragoonaden, a first-generation student, was majoring in economics, but over ice cream, Schwartzer convinced her to switch to neuroscience and behavior.

“For me, the gift is that I get to be a part of her journey,” said Schwartzer.

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