Graduation Caps Rule Change & Student Outrage

The rule change prohibiting quotes on graduating seniors’ graduation caps has been revoked, but it was a rule change that had much controversy and a long journey to being taken away.

According to Ms. Butler, there have been small amendments to what graduating seniors are and are not allowed to put on their graduation caps every year. This year, the rule change disabled students from putting quotes on their caps, which students say went too far.

According to Ms. Bean, the art teacher who has to approve the cap designs of each student, the official rule adds quotes to the list of banned decorations, which already includes 3D elements, elements that would hang off the side of the cap, electric or moving parts, inappropriate language, and painting on the base of the cap. This would limit the caps to only be decorated with name of the college–four year college, community college, military academy, trade school, or otherwise–the student would be going to or a painted picture. “You could put ‘2017’,” Ms. Bean also added. Ms. Butler said, “We do try to allow students as much as possible to individualize their attire–their caps–although that’s not really required. We have allowed students to do that to some degree.

“Over the years, that’s gotten, in some ways, a little bit difficult to manage,” Ms. Butler continued. “And it seems like every year we’ve had to add one or more additional restrictions, because it seems like every year there’s somebody who pushes the envelope a little bit further… I’m a little disappointed that we’ve had to come to this point, but I’m not surprised, frankly, because I think it’s human nature to take a privilege and push it to the limit and beyond. And that’s essentially what’s happened.” She went on to cite an incident from last year’s graduation where a student came with a cap that had a decoration “sticking up” from the cap and with inappropriate language on it. “It wasn’t even the painting that was inappropriate, but it was the words,” she explained.

Even further, Ms. Bean said that consistently, not every student gets their cap design approved, which would add to the possibility of inappropriate designs. “The students need to have their designs approved by [administration] and we sign them off, but then there’s always someone who doesn’t,” she explained. She speculated that the new rule change was a “result of someone not following the general directions, and then going through [the graduation ceremony] regardless.” With this information in mind, the rule change seems to have been put in place in an attempt to eliminate the possibility inappropriate language by not allowing any words in the first place.

However, the rule change, graduating seniors say, is unfair to students who are not going into college, limits personal expression, and punishes the whole for the actions of the few. In fact, all seniors interviewed disapproved or disagreed with it. Ms. Bean, who did not make the decision, said that she has noticed that “students are upset,” however Ms. Butler said that she has received “very little reaction” from students over the rule change. She said, “If there are reactions, they have not come to me at all. I’ve had a questions asked, but no argument, so I’m not hearing that if it’s out there.”

Seniors Dejah Blowe and Octavia Sharp said that they have talked to Ms. Butler about the rule change and expressed their disapproval of it to her. The two seniors agreed that it was unfair for students to who are “going into the workforce or maybe who don’t know what they want to do,” as Sharp explained. Blowe also said that some students, including herself, might feel uncomfortable putting Lord Fairfax Community College on their cap, due to its community college status, though Ms. Butler did not see the problem with it, stating, “Lord Fairfax is a college.” Blowe said, “It’s kind of weird trying to put LFCC on your cap. I wouldn’t want to put [LFCC on her graduation cap], because that’s what I’m doing. Plus, I’m transferring but you’re not going straight there, so you can’t exactly claim your school because you don’t know where you’re going yet.” Senior Austin Murphy, who is going to a four year college, agreed with them and said, “If you don’t go to college, you can’t really put anything on your graduation cap, the rule change is taking away from them. I think it’s very unfair.”

Senior Blaine Branham said that he can see both sides of the argument but also commented, “I also see where that could be a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.” However, he also acknowledged that the rule change would not affect him as he was not planning on putting anything on his cap in the first place. Murphy also felt that the rule did not affect him since he was already planning on putting his college on his cap. However, several other students said that they have had to change their design, including Senior Grace Rector. She said, “I was going to do a quote on my cap on just a regular background.” In fact, the quote she planned on using was the 2017 senior quote: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring.” – David Bowie.

Sharp said that she has had to redesign her cap several times. She said that she has had several designs disapproved because of her use of quotes, which, she said, were “Off to greener pastures” and her favorite scripture. She also said, “I completely understand it has to be school-appropriate, I get that, but telling me that I can’t put my favorite quote or favorite scripture on my cap, I feel like that dehumanizes me as a person.” Blowe wanted to put either her favorite scripture her cap as well or a quote on music: “Life without music would be flat.” She said that she’s unsure what she will put on her cap now, and said, “I can paint a pretty flower, I could put a treble clef, but it doesn’t really show me, so I don’t know what to do.” She also noted that she knows students who were planning to do memorials on their caps for parents or relatives who passed away, which they would no longer be allowed to do.

The last major concern that is being expressed by Millbrook seniors is that they will be punished for other people’s actions. Blowe, who went to last year’s graduation to help set up, said that she saw only two students wearing caps that she thought were inappropriate. She went on to say, “I just think it’s rude that one or two people can ruin it for an entire class.”

The new rule change has also brought up several different questions of ethics, including the problem of individuality versus dress codes. “We have dress codes for school. We have dress codes for when students participate in a variety of activities. So why wouldn’t we have a dress code for the most formal school activity, which would be graduation? That would be my question to anybody who would question the rationale for placing a restriction on what someone places on their cap,” Ms. Butler said. However, she also said, “While I do want students to be able to have some expression of individuality, it does become a management issue. It just becomes an issue of, can we just simply find a way where we can meet within certain parameters, and accept that there are certain guidelines that we’ll follow for that hour-and-a-half, understanding that there could be a restriction that is no decoration? Because that could be the restriction.” She also mentioned, “there are some area schools that don’t allow any decoration caps, and there are some, admittedly, that allow anything,” however, she said that she was unaware of the rules put in place by the other schools in Frederick County. She also went on to say that she thought having a “guideline that is somewhat open is better than not open at all.”

Sharp’s response to the question of individuality was “No offense, administrators, you didn’t earn my grades, I earned them. And if I graduated and I’m proud of myself, I feel like I should be able to express myself in any way that I feel.” She also noted that since students had to buy their own caps, then they should be able to decorate them how they please. Senior SCA President Logan Apple agreed with her on this issue, and said, “Ultimately, I feel that the rule change is unnecessary. I just don’t see the point of it, personally. I feel like, ultimately, people should be able to decorate their caps as they please. Ultimately, is it that important? I feel like it’s just a way of expressing yourself. And it’s graduation, it’s all ending anyway, why worry about trivialities?”

According to Apple, there are currently no plans for the SCA to take any kind of action against the rule change. However, he said that the SCA would be open to taking action if the general population of seniors comes to a consensus on the issue and feel that their rights to decorate their caps are being violated. “I would actually suggest talking to Ms. Barker or Ms. Henshaw,” Apple explained. “They are our class advisors. If enough people do come by, we could start perhaps a petition, in order to change the rule. Get enough support, show that support, and then begin making changes by bringing it to the administration. We’ll see how it goes, one way or another.”

Even if the rule does get changed, the problem of the possibility of inappropriate designs still exists. Rector said that there should be “better monitoring” and Branham called for “stricter discipline.” Murphy said that administration should try to “crack down on that people that don’t get their cap design approved.” Blowe suggested that students who bring inappropriate caps to graduation should be told not to wear it or given a blank cap. Ms. Butler asked, “Who’s to be monitoring all of that? … That’s too much for my faculty to have to be in the position of doing the day of graduation.” Sharp was unable to come up with a solution, but said that the original plan for approving caps was flawed in the first place, saying, “There is really no way of monitoring students who do not get their cap design approved because they can go home on June 2nd, and show up June 3rd with anything and everything they want on their cap. So having it approved before hand doesn’t really help.”

On Thursday, May 18, there was a senior meeting, where due to the reactions Ms. Butler had received, she revoked the rule change. Seniors are now allowed to write a quote on their as long as it is approved by one of the four principals: Ms. Butler, Mr. Hawkins, Ms. Puglisi, or Ms. Rangel.

About the Author

Madison Lazenby
Madison Lazenby is a sophomore writer for the BlueXpress. Ask her about her dog, Molly.
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