Woodstock School District 200 students protest ban on graduation cap decorations

Woodstock School District 200 bans decorated mortarboards

Paige Olandese adjusts her cap as she waits with her classmates for the start of the Woodstock High School graduation May 20.
Paige Olandese adjusts her cap as she waits with her classmates for the start of the Woodstock High School graduation May 20.

A group of Woodstock North High School senior students are protesting an administrative ban on decorating graduation caps.

Seniors at Woodstock and Woodstock North high schools traditionally have personalized their graduation caps to announce college and career intentions, extracurricular accomplishments and more. Now, school administrators said the practice is a distraction and will not be allowed at either high school.

Woodstock North’s graduating class is 221 students this year. A petition circulating among students to allow the cap decoration has collected almost 100 signatures, Woodstock North senior Makayla Freeman said.

Freeman said her older brothers graduated from District 200 and personalized their caps. She said she had been looking forward to her turn since entering high school.

“It’s a really fun way to show our achievements and what our plans are,” Freeman said. “I have always wanted to decorate my cap. I have a college picked out and had a whole idea of how I was going to decorate it.”

A committee composed of high school and district administrators decided in March to end the practice to try to preserve the ceremony’s dignity, District 200 Communications Director Kevin Lyons said.

“Historically, kids had used it to represent what college they were going to,” he said. “But it turned into something else. Some kids were having Christmas lights and corporation stickers, and it got kind of gaudy.”

He said that the practice had become a distraction.

“The ceremony is about the entire graduating class,” he said. “We want to keep it about the class rather than have students trying to one-up each other.”

Senior Dakotah Jaco, who attends classes at both campuses, said the opportunity to show off her creativity was the only reason she planned to participate in the formal ceremony.

“The fact that they aren’t going to allow this makes me want to not walk,” she said. “I just mainly think it’s unfair, and maybe they should set up policy where you decorate it beforehand and show them before you go up.”

Makayla’s mother, Vicki Freeman, said she is on her daughter’s side of the debate.

“It’s the kids’ ceremony,” she said. “It’s not for the faculty. The kids want it, and they want to express themselves.”

The idea of a somber, dignified ceremony is outdated, she said.

“I get the whole formalities of a graduation, but it’s high school,” she said. “Twenty years ago, it was different. Not many people went on to college. It was a different time. But things are changing. Kids are changing.”

School districts throughout McHenry County have differing policies.

“We do not allow students to alter their graduation cap and gown,” McHenry High School District 156 Superintendent Ryan McTague said.

Community High School District 155 does not allow cap decorations either, district spokeswoman Rochelle LeBreck said.

Richmond-Burton High School District 157 Superintendent Tom Lind said the high school disallows cap decorating and has a strict dress code for what students can wear underneath their cap and gown on graduation day.

“It’s our philosophy that the ceremony is to be kept formal,” he said.

Huntley High School welcomes student creativity as long as it’s appropriate and positive, said Dan Armstrong, District 158’s director of communications. Students have decorated the caps with pop culture references, school spirit themes and messages to loves ones, he said.

“In years past, it was very common for students going on to college to decorate with the identity of their next school. In recent years, students have gotten very creative,” he said. “I think our community looks forward to seeing students express themselves in this way every year.”

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