Culture through clothing: Students' heritage on display at Orchard Ceremony

Cassie Lechner '18 described the process of buying her dress as being similar to wedding dress shopping.

"I went to Germany for Christmas this year and I got the Dirndl in Munich at a little boutique," she said. "They had hundreds and hundreds."

For Dulcinée Tuza '18, her dress was given to her as a parting gift before she left her hometown of Kigali, Rwanda, to come to Westover.

"My godmother came to my house for my send-off and she gave me my flag and gave me the Umushanana, kind of her gift to me, and pearls, Dulcinée said. "It's a thing to wear pearls."

Classmate Jiberly Sandoval's story is similar to Duclinee's. Jiberly's godmother brought her dress, which is called a Vestido Tropical, from the Dominican Republic a few months ago and gave it to her.

Along with a handful of other students in the Class of 2018, these three unique dresses were worn on June 1 at the Orchard Ceremony -- an event that honors the athletic, artistic, and academic achievements of the student body, that has over time transformed into a ceremony where the seniors are able to showcase their nationality and culture through their dresses.

"To be able to show it (my culture) through clothing is really, really special," Cassie said. "It's like you're wearing art in a sense because they put in so much detail and it's so meaningful."

Cassie, who is from Middlebury, holds dual citizenship from Germany and the United States. Both her parents are from Germany and moved to the United States later in life. Cassie explained she's been able to soak in the German culture and language at home through her parents, and frequently makes trips back to Germany.

"My parents are very happy that my brother and I both took in the culture so well," Cassie said. "I consider Germany more of my home ... it's such a big part of who I am."

Described as a rusty blush color, Cassie's dress, called a Dirndl, is all about the intricate details highlighted with beautiful lacing throughout, a corset in front and an apron that has a sheer silver cover over it with a lace shimmer. At Orchard, Cassie also wore a German necklace, called an edelweiss.

She said in Germany, women usually wear these outfits at Oktoberfest and more traditional outings.

"I've never had a place to wear it and show it off," said Cassie of her dress. "And I'm extremely proud of where I come from."

"To be able to show it (my culture) through clothing is really, really special," Cassie said.

A royal blue, with thin gold stripes throughout and a hint of a pattern, Dulcinée's dress, called a Umushanana, is basically two large rectangle-shaped sheets of fabric. One of them is tied around the body and the other one you lay it out in front of you and pin the middle and shoulder. At Orchard, Dulcinée wore a pearl bracelet, necklace, earrings and blue heels. A traditional piece of Rwandan wear, this dress nowadays is worn at weddings, birthdays and other celebrations, she said.

"For me, there's a big pride aspect to our culture as a people; to me I'm showing off where I'm from," Dulcinée said of her dress. "It's a very essential part of who I am. It's important to me, because I'm representing and I feel like I'm doing my people right."

Dulcineé's mother and younger sister were both in attendance for Orchard and Graduation.

"My sister think it's cool," Dulcinée said of her dress. "She's telling me she can't wait to get her own.

Bright blue, white and red, Jiberly's dress represents her Dominican Republic nationality. Born in Lawrence, Mass., Jiberly's parents came from the Dominican Republic for better opportunities. Jiberly, who also speaks Spanish, said wearing a piece of her heritage is something to feel good about.

"It makes me feel proud of where my family is from," she said.

A long skirt that reaches the floor and a ruffled off-the-shoulder top, the dress is the colors of the flag.

"It's just the tropical, cultural dress people wear for fairs and presentations at school," she said.

While all three girls and their Orchard dresses have different backstories, the meaning for all three is similar.

"Be proud of where you come from," Jiberly said.

The message for students of different backgrounds coming to Westover is one of acceptance and embracement.

"Girls coming here, don't try and get rid of (your culture). It's such a beautiful part of you," Dulcinée said.

Added Cassie: "Don't be afraid to educate others about who you are and where you come from. Because Westover is not just an American school; it's where everyone is from."