SALINAS VALLEY — Seniors at King City and Greenfield high schools will have an in-person graduation this year, but they will not be permitted to decorate their caps and gowns.
The direction from the schools is in line with previous years, during which students were allowed to wear leis but not decorate their outfits, but differs from last year’s graduations that were in a drive-thru format and allowed decorations.
Students and families have begun to ask administration to keep last year’s exemptions in place for this year.
Student Angelina Mendoza started an online petition in late April that has received more than 800 virtual signatures from supporters, calling for administration to allow the graduates to decorate their attire.
“Now that students have selected they want an in-person graduation, we’re going back to the traditional way of doing things,” said Janet Matos, KCHS principal.
Matos said she spoke with the senior class adviser as well as elected student leaders and representatives in late April, and earlier this month she had a sit-down with concerned students to outline the reasoning behind the rules.
She explained last year’s exemption was due to the fact students didn’t walk together as a class through their graduation ceremony because neither campus had an in-person event.
“Our classes of 2021 are not only asking that we have the opportunity to express ourselves through decorating our caps and gowns, but we are also asking that the no-decoration rule be rescinded for all graduating classes moving forward,” Mendoza said.
Matos said decorations were a non-negotiable item, and that the main options were to either have an in-person graduation with no decorations, or have a virtual or drive-thru graduation with decorations.
The bottom line was what mattered more, graduating among peers or having decorations. After talks with the student leaders, they decided graduating in person mattered more.
“If decorating their caps was a No. 1 priority, they could do that with a drive-thru graduation,” Matos said. “You step out of your car as an individual and you’re only representing yourself.”
Mendoza said a similar decision was reached at GHS, where the graduation committee was asked to decide on the matter and concluded they would not allow decorations.
“Without sitting down with our class and giving our class as a whole the opportunity to give our statements on the matter, it has been concluded by our leadership students, administration and class administrator that if we do not agree with the rules, we don’t have to participate in our graduation ceremony,” Mendoza said.
Matos explained that from an administration perspective, getting every student’s input would take too long, which is why student leaders were elected to represent the student voice.
“We want to make sure we all walk in uniform, so when you’re sitting down, you see a beautiful ocean of blue and white,” Matos said.
She also noted the potential for a decoration to contain offensive material, as administration and teachers wouldn’t be able to inspect every single decoration on the day of graduation.
“It’s very difficult for us administrators and it takes away from the celebration,” Matos said.
Mendoza said students who want decorations aren’t seeking to offend, but to represent. She said student wishes are for family tributes, LGBTQ pride and goals for post-graduation.
Sashes were another item Matos said could not be worn, unless they were a cord or sash earned through scholarly efforts.
“Students work hard for that,” she said. “We want to give the students the attention they earned and deserve. … You’re only allowed to wear cords and sashes that you’ve earned at high school.”
Meanwhile, Matos explained the traditional leis, including flowers, money or candy, are allowed.
“It is important to our classes of 2021 to get our decorations beyond leis and sashes because we’d like to highlight our goals and accomplishments through our creativity, individuality and diversity,” Mendoza said. “It is to express how proud we are of ourselves and how honored we are to have made it to our graduation.”
The exemption came during a year in which schools shut down and everything about academic life was disrupted.
This year, Mendoza said students carried that sense of uncertainty with them, fearing they might not have a ceremony once again. Decorations, she said, were a step toward being proud of getting through such a disrupted school experience and celebrating with their loved ones.
“We want to make sure the graduation ceremony is a dignified ceremony, a respectable ceremony and a good memory for everyone,” Matos said.
This year’s graduations for Greenfield and King City high schools are on June 4 and 5, respectively. Both ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. at the respective stadiums.