Graduation wasn’t the only cause for celebration at Alverno’s 155th commencement. After the undergraduate ceremony, held May 20 in Pitman Theatre, 22 graduates and their families and friends gathered in Wehr Auditorium for the inaugural Latinas con Fuerza ceremony.

Inspired by Alverno’s longstanding Bestowing of the Kente ceremony for African-American graduates, Hispanic students worked with faculty and the International and Intercultural Center to craft their own rite of passage and celebration.

Referring to persisting racial and gender gaps in higher education, speaker JoCasta Zamarripa — a Wisconsin state representative and sister of honoree JoAnna Bautch ’17 — applauded the students for succeeding when “the odds are stacked against you.” The ceremony featured a welcome from Sister Andrea, who impressed the crowd by delivering her remarks in Spanish and English.

After a dynamic performance by the Bailarines Aztecas, graduates’ loved ones presented each woman with a colorful sarape stole as Vanessa Vasquez ’12 ’15 read notes of gratitude from the new alumnae to the presenters, who included parents, children, spouses and siblings.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” says Nicole Acosta ’16, who returned after her December graduation to participate in the ceremony that she and her peers orchestrated. The eldest of her two sons presented her stole. “I felt support and love in the room.”

Acosta and Adekola Adedapo ’10, Alverno’s coordinator of multicultural programs, say the ceremony provides crucial support and recognition for women of color, honoring the strength they call upon to achieve their goals. They say the Latinas con Fuerza ceremony will be the first of many.

“The journey of doing this ceremony has just begun,”Adedapo says.

Dressed to Impress

Sarape and Kente stoles. Cords signifying honors status. Decorated mortarboards. This year, Alverno graduates were able to display these signs of achievement for the first time.

Sister Andrea allowed this year’s graduates the opportunity to joyously express themselves. While Alverno graduates remain part of one sisterhood, Wendy Powers, associate vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, says that allowing the decorations reflects a “celebration of diversity within our community.”

Undergraduate and graduate students alike impressed with clever, meaningful and beautifully decorated mortarboards in honor of this important milestone as well as their chosen professions.

Expressions of gratitude to family members and other pillars of support were also on display.

Brightly colored stoles celebrated students’ academic and athletic achievements and ethnic backgrounds. Gold stoles with the College seal were available to all who wanted to proclaim their inclusion in the Alverno sisterhood. Gold cords were available for honors students, while Doherty Scholars wore burgundy.

Far from detracting from the day, Powers says the additional garb only enhanced commencement.

“I saw quite a strong sense of community among students,” she says. “It was a fabulous new addition.”

Will Alverno continue the tradition for future ceremonies?

"We sure will," Powers says.

Check out a slideshow of photographs from commencement on Alverno College's Facebook page