An estimated 3,316,280 students graduated high school this year, wearing stoles that tie them to hundreds of years of tradition and history as they walk to get their diplomas. The hierarchies of academic and extracurricular achievement are traditionally symbolized by colors that mark degree levels, organizations, as well as honors.
Ty’unna and Iris, high school seniors in South Carolina, are celebrating a more inclusive graduation day and revolutionizing what success looks like. The stoles they wore represent a more complete portrait of today’s girl — where resiliency and emotional wellness are celebrated on the same stage as academic and extracurricular achievement.
“To me the graduation stole is not just a piece of fabric, it represents who I am and is a statement of what I have overcome to make it to the finish line. I am not just graduating because of my academic success but because I have learned that I have the power to be my own best advocate,” shared Iris.
We must understand the role emotional support plays in getting students, particularly women, through high school. Students have reported that their mental health and emotional struggles keep them from achieving their goals, whether passing a class, graduating high school or attending college.
“Ty’unna and Iris have taught me lessons on persistence that are unparalleled. Most girls I work with at Pace Center for Girls are behind in school,” shared Lisa Spears, South Carolina Reach Program Director. “The enormity of the mountain they had to climb to make it to graduation cannot be understated.”
There is no question that young people are telling us that they are in a mental health crisis. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated a startling 57% of teen girls—nearly 3 in 5—reported feeling “persistently sad or hopeless,” while 30% said they had seriously considered dying by suicide, an increase of 60% since 2011. These numbers are the highest they’ve been in the last decade.
“I think people don’t take mental health seriously because some people aren’t going through mental health issues to the same extent as others,” Ty’unna said. “Mental health needs to be taken more seriously. People are dying because of the stigma.”
Young people, caregivers, behavioral health providers, and policymakers are calling attention to the issue through awareness campaigns and efforts to increase the availability of quality mental and emotional health services. There is an assumed stigma that can come with sharing mental and emotional health challenges. It is evident that Ty’unna and Iris are rewriting that narrative — starting with their community of peers.
“Wearing a stole that represents both my academic and emotional wellness journey gives me courage. I want everyone to know that I am a Pace girl, and I am going to walk extra slow so everyone can see it,” shared Ty’unna.
As first-generation college students, Ty’unna and Iris are eager to pursue their post-grad endeavors as students at Florence-Darlington Technical College. Ty’unna plans on becoming an esthetician while Iris plans on becoming a nurse.
As for the legacy both girls are leaving, Iris shared, “My success looks different than others. I’m the first Pace South Carolina graduate and the first person in my family to attend college. I’m wearing a stole that sends a message to my community, and I hope to inspire other girls to stand proud in who they are.”