When we walk into school on our first day freshman year, all of us hope to reach the final goal of our high school career: receiving our diplomas and saying “We made it!” Countless things go along with reaching that point and for many of us, the ceremony means a lot. For some, the parties following mean even more. For others, it’s being allowed to express their individuality, or maybe the feeling of the whole class being together as one. Lately, the talk of the hallways at WHS has been decorating the graduation caps. Last year was the first year that the students were explicitly not allowed to decorate their caps, and this year some students, parents, and community members feel very strongly about seniors having the right to do so. Here is some more information, as well as people’s thoughts, on the exact reasons why we are unable to decorate our caps…. Or at least unable to right now.
From an interview with Mrs. Houwers, former Senior class advisor
The caps and gowns have been around since the 12th century. Schools used to tell their students to wear best clothes; some wore full on suits and others wore shirts with holes. So, there was a big gap between the students, and to make everyone look more uniform the cap and gown were created. Most schools have their students dress in a cap and gown, it is not just Whitewater. “WHS used to allow students to decorate their caps, but out of 150 kids maybe 10-15 kids decorated their caps; we decided last year we wanted it to be about being a group, not one kid; [to have] everyone together,” said Mrs. Houwers.
Reasons why students can’t decorate caps
From an interview with Ms. McNulty, Senior class advisor
1. The commencement ceremony is a formal event. Attire for the event is predetermined, thus the caps and gowns.
2. The commencement ceremony is the collective acknowledgement that the students in the class of 2018 have completed the requirements to graduate; the class is certified as a whole by the principal before the announcement of their names being called for their diplomas. The ceremony is a formal event and meant to be uniform. Graduation parties (for those fortunate enough to have them) are the individual celebrations when students can express themselves.
3. The dress code is the expectation that has been established by the school without malice. It is not an effort to restrict students from succeeding in their academic achievements or hinder their performance unfairly in anyway. It is no more than a dress code for an event. Students participating in band are required follow a dress code- to wear all black with a red accent. The same philosophy of a dress code is applied to the graduation ceremony.
4. Class advisors have a lot going on at the time, such as making sure all students are present (“In past years we've had to call families because of an absent student,” according to Mrs. Houwers), coordinating the picture, making sure the gymnasium and all parts of the ceremony are prepped, securing seating or interpreters for those with hearing issues, and dealing with unforeseen incidents that might arise. Adding having to monitor caps to the already long list would cause even more stress for the advisors.
5. The rules to decorate caps would have too many "holes,” and personal expression/opinion is difficult to judge. In past years, students have completely covered their caps in camo, or decorated them in 3D, but some featured language or images inappropriate for a ceremonial setting. For every argument that those manners of decorating caps is okay, there are an equal number that say each is in poor taste.
Senior class advisor, Spanish teacher and speech teacher at WHS
What is your overall opinion? I can see both sides of the issue, I understand and value students’ desire to demonstrate individuality. I believe our students are given a wide girth to express their individuality throughout their 4 years here; therefore, requesting that they wear non-personalized caps at graduation is not that big of a deal. Having a uniform at a formal ceremony seems non controversial. Individual expression should be left to individual celebrations that occur following the formal commencement ceremony.
Would you willing to compromise? First of all, it is not a rule that i personally established, however I support it. I have been in discussion with administration and students and believe a compromise will be reached that I support.
Whitewater High School Principal
What is your overall opinion? In high school, it was clear that there were expectations [for the graduation ceremony]: gown, cap, go through as a community event, and there were no questions about it. For the flip side once I got to college it was [a] more individualized event for some people, but I still went formal. I can see both sides, but as principal and working with everyone, it is a very dignified event and we would like to uphold standards.
Would you be willing to compromise? I want to find something that is majority agreeable to all parties. Mr. O and I created the principal advisory board for reasons like this, to get more of the students [to] take on what is going on in the school. We need to explore different options, but need to get going because it will be here soon. I have reached out to various people in RVC (Rock Valley Conference); only one other school has allowed it. I reached out to Mr. Parker [former WHS principal], and Mr. Parker said it was the same rule last year, but this time it is on paper is the only difference. Being a new principal I am trying to listen and follow as past practiced while listening to the needs of students.
Former WHS student, 2017 graduate
What do you know about the decorating caps issue? I just know that last year, my graduating year, was the first year we weren’t allowed to do it because a previous student had written something profane on their cap.
What is your overall opinion? Overall I’m against the no decorating rule, it denies students their right to individuality and making their graduation day special. A lot of students, like myself, had been planning on how to decorate their caps for years. I was planning to decorate mine as a memorial for my mom, to have a way for her to be there with me since she passed away. I just think it sucks.
What did you do last year? Well, I ended up getting two caps. One I wore for my pictures that I decorated for my mom and had on display at my grad party, but I couldn’t wear for graduation; I had to wear the blank one.
Do you think it’s logical to compromise? I think it is, yes.
Current senior at WHS, Started petition to decorate graduation caps
Why should we be allowed to? We should be allowed to decorate our caps because the whitewater High School dress code does not state that we aren’t allowed to personalize our clothing, so why does it change when it comes to our caps?
What would you put on your cap? Where I am going to college.
How would you control what to put? Have a designated night and if you decorate it, it has to be held by the school until graduation so it can’t be changed, and if you didn’t come to that night and decorated it, you must provide your own designated clean cap at time of graduation.
Current senior at WHS
What is your overall opinion? First of all, I believe the whole issue is petty to start with. How about the fact that 30% of our student body shows symptoms of depression, but no, nobody wants to talk about something serious. Secondly, graduation is less about the individual and more about the class, we have spent 13 years working towards a diploma, not a ceremony. The ceremony is simply to showcase the class as a whole. The whole reason we wear cap and gowns is to look uniform and ensure that everyone is included. While I believe strongly in individualism, this is our last day as a class, we have the rest of our lives to be individual. Never again will the class of 2018 be in the same room, so let’s show some unity.
Would you be willing to compromise? I mean it depends, it’s hard to compromise because it’s a yes or no thing, we either wear decorated caps in the ceremony or we don’t. If what you’re getting at is to go for pre-approval, I think that is a must have if we are going to go with decorating.
While no decision has been made either way, many reasons are affecting the vote: graduation is a community event where the class is together as one for the final time, and historically only a small amount of students decorated their caps in previous years. Also being considered, if students aren't allowed to decorate their caps, is the fact that a student’s right to express their individuality, pride of where they may be attending school in the future, or their ability honor a family member would be restricted. Regardless of the decision, there are many factors and viewpoints influencing the outcome of this policy that must be considered by both sides of the issue.