TACOMA – High school seniors typically deal with a range of emotions and obligations in the weeks leading up to graduation.
Clover Park High School students Shadae Ingram and Diane Veness recently found themselves dealing with one more thing: a controversy over their Black pride-themed stoles.
After learning five days ago that Clover Park School District administration would not permit them to wear their custom stoles at the school’s graduation Thursday, superintendent Ron Banner told them Wednesday morning that he would reverse the decision.
“I feel a weight lifted,” Veness said. “I’m just like genuinely happy.”
As first reported by KIRO 7, Ingram and Veness, both 18, are part of the first Clover Park senior class in which students are allowed to customize their graduation stoles. The Black teenagers purchased stoles made from Kente, traditional Ghanan fabric. Each has a custom inscription. Ingram’s inscription reads, “Black Grads Matter,” and Veness’ reads, “Black Girl Magic.” Both submitted their designs to Clover Park before the school’s June 3 deadline.
The weekend after the submission deadline, Ingram’s dad received a call from the principal of the Lakewood school.
“Our head principal told my dad that it was too liberal, can’t wear it,” Ingram said. “(He said) it doesn’t fall within the standards of our school.”
Veness also was instructed not to wear her stole around the same time. Both seniors believed the prohibition was disrespectful and disregarding of their identify.
“I felt kind of like, ‘Wow, we can’t represent us. We can’t be ourselves,’ ” Veness said. “Because that’s what it means to us. That’s our culture.”
Tuesday evening, after KIRO 7 published its story on Ingram and Veness, they were informed that they should attend a meeting at the school district office the next morning. Neither senior was told whom the gathering was with or what it would be about.
Wednesday morning, a day before Clover Park’s graduation, the principal told Ingram and Veness that they would be meeting with Banner and the vice principal about their stoles. According to Ingram, Banner made it clear that no one was in trouble and everyone clicked quickly. At the end of the meeting, after the seniors explained why their stoles were meaningful to them, Banner agreed with their position.
“He said he is willing to talk to his school board and get them to understand even if they’re not necessarily on board,” Veness said.
In an email to The News Tribune about the reversed decision, district director of communication Leanna Albrecht wrote, “After further review of the instructions provided for graduation, there was some confusion in the approval process. The students discussed the cultural representation of their stoles directly with the superintendent. As a result, we have made a special exception for the stole requests that were received by the deadline of June 3.”
Albrecht also wrote the district aims to make the stole customization instructions clearer for next year’s seniors.
For Ingram, the decision came as welcomed relief for herself but also a point of optimism for future Black high school graduates.
“African American graduates, who actually can walk across the stage are very much overlooked, because we’re never the majority,” she said. “But when our voices are heard, the way we were heard today and over the past couple weeks, that’s when it really matters.”
Veness said it allows her to further celebrate being the first person in her family to graduate high school.
“I’m breaking the generational curses and chains in my family,” she said. “It may be tough, and you may want to give up, but you just got to keep going.”