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For U-M graduates who spend their college years focused on climate justice, graduating sustainably is a continuing reality. Rackham student Katie Porter, Office of Student Life Intern, and multiple student volunteers attended an event to make graduation cords Tuesday afternoon for the Excellence in Sustainability Honors Cord Program.  

The program honors students who have advanced their skills, knowledge and practice of sustainability during their time at the University. Over 140 students will graduate with these honors in April 2022.

Art & Design Professor Joseph Trumpey, director of the Sustainable Living Experience, said he collaborated with Alex Bryan, his counterpart for Sustainable Living in the Office of Student Life, to come up with an idea to honor the Sustainability Program Honors students. 

“We decided to have a cord that matches the value of the sustainability honor itself,” Trumpey said. “Since I deal with the Art school, and I’m a maker of things, it became logical for me to dig in on what materials to use and how to make these things.”

The cords for Fall 2021 graduates were made using raffia, a natural plant fiber. The raffia was braided into cords and then hand-dyed, which took time but came out well, Trumpey said. Trumpey said the fiber for this year’s cords should be sourced locally.

“Being able to use Michigan fiber and natural dyes to dye the wool itself, is very fun,” Trumpey said. “The fiber is from (Zeilinger Wool Company), so it’s Michigan fiber, but it’s machine spun. We were able to use Indigo and Golden Rod from the campus farm and the yellow and blue color in our fiber studio here.”

Rackham student Katie Portz, an intern for the Office of Student Life, organized the volunteers and cord-creating process. The cord making process consists of two main tools: a rope making machine and drill. Volunteers tied one end of the strands to the rope making machine to create tension and then drilled the cord to produce the final product. 

Portz said that mistakes during the process made each cord unique. The group made around 80 cords and will meet again to complete the remainder of the graduates’ cords. More information about future cord creation events can be found on the Planet Blue Student Leaders event page.

Portz said the event offers a bonding opportunity for students interested in sustainability.

“This is the first official year of the Excellence in Sustainability Honors Cord Program,” Portz said. “Coming to these cord creation events can count towards a student’s sustainability cord requirements… It also allows students to meet others with an interest in sustainability.”

The strands used were three differently dyed strands of natural fiber wool. Trumpey hopes students will eventually be able to spin the yarn themselves.

“We’ve purchased a couple of spinning wheels and some spindles for students,” Trumpey said. “We will open the event to general sign up, and it’s a beautiful process because it’s handmade by Michigan students for Michigan students. This is just one of the best parts about sustainability.”

LSA Sophomore Noah Manuszak attended the event as a student volunteer. He is also a member of Planet Blue Student Leaders (PBSL), a sustainability organization through the Student Life sustainability department, which is how he learned about this event. Although Manuszak is not graduating, he said he is looking forward to making more cords in the future. 

“The people who are in charge are doing a great job of guiding us and making sure that we understand what we’re doing,” Manuszak said. “It was very thorough and it made for a very efficient process… I would love to attend any future cord creation events.”

Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at