After much debate, district finally makes decision on caps and gowns


A photo posted on Shaler Area website that provides a preview of what the new graduation caps and gowns will look like.

On November 18, 2022, a message was sent out to Shaler Area students via email declaring a final decision regarding the graduation cap and gown design. After student opinion being taken into consideration, the district has decided on a plain, navy blue gown that will feature the official district Titan logo.

The district website posted a photo of the gowns with the following statement.

“Student voices have been incorporated into the decision to move ahead with the simple dark navy design for our new graduation regalia which features our Titan logo. The new gown honors the Titan tradition with the school colors, advances our mission of unity and inclusion with one design for the entire graduating class, and integrates feedback from students and community. Beginning with the Class of 2023, our new graduation gowns will usher in a new era in Titan history with a unified design for all students.”

However, the process to get to this decision was not an easy one as it was plagued by much arguing and lack of compromise.

A gown design was initially revealed on August 31, 2022 featuring a navy blue gown with a thick white and red stripe at the end of the sleeves. Immediately, there were strong reactions from the community to this draft ranging from those who felt extremely disappointed to those who were satisfied or happy with the design.

“Some people just seem like they don’t care and other people are just so passionate about it,” Superintendent Dr. Sean Aiken said.

Regardless of how they felt about the gown, many people questioned why any change was being made. Shaler Area traditionally had both blue and white gowns worn at graduation.

Dr. Aiken presented a step-by-step process that eventually led to the final design. Following the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, there were a series of protests and movements that called for equality. This prompted a few Shaler Area community members to advocate for more to be done on the school level.

I was just disappointed and upset because growing up, I always had this idea of graduating in a white gown. My two sisters wore the gown and so I always thought I would too.

— Senior Norah Strout

“We had a group of alumni and students that reached out to me and the school board. They wrote a letter to us and they challenged us to think about diversity and inclusion and how we treat marginalized students or minority students in this school,” Dr. Aiken said.

The district decided one way to be more united, the school district should switch to one singular graduation gown color. The concept behind this idea was to promote inclusivity in general, but was also a continuation of discussions that had started earlier regarding gender identity.

“There were a few members of the school board that were very much in favor of changing the gowns. That’s how this initiated really. That started three or four years ago,” Dr. Aiken said.

Graduation gown color had always been decided upon gender, blue for males and white for females. Starting in 2009, students were allowed to pick a gown color regardless of gender. However, in the last few years there had been concerns raised for gender nonconforming students and what color gown they should wear.

There were a plethora of meetings last year that were focused on this topic. After a series of meetings, the decision was made to continue to let the class of 2022 graduates have their choice of blue or white caps and gowns, but it was stated that the implementation of one unified gown would happen starting with the class of 2023.

A contest was held where students could submit their design ideas as a plan toward transitioning to one unified gown. However, this generated only three designs being submitted. Activities Director Mrs. Mindy Thiel said those designs were sent to Jostens, the company that provides the caps and gowns.

From those submissions, a gown design was created and revealed on August 31, 2022. Many people were disappointed at this reveal, some because of the actual look of the gown but others because they did not like the choice made by the district to switch to one gown.

“I was just disappointed and upset because growing up, I always had this idea of graduating in a white gown. My two sisters wore the gown and so I always thought I would too,” senior Norah Strout said.

Shaler Area students will no longer wear both blue and white gaps and gowns at graduation.

The school district hosted a town hall meeting on September 28, 2022. According to Dr. Aiken, the meeting started well, but then it turned into an opportunity for those in attendance to air their grievances towards the school.

“In that town hall meeting, there were some seniors there that raised some concerns, and it got to be somewhat of an emotional meeting for some of the parents that were in there,” Dr. Aiken said.

The school district then released another survey asking students to share their opinions about what they wanted in a graduation gown. The results revealed that out of the approximately 400 students who responded (the survey was sent to about 1,000) over 300 said they wanted to be able to make the choice of either a blue or white gown. However, the survey was not a vote and was simply looking for feedback.

“Change is just not easy, it’s hard. Especially if they feel like it’s a tradition they hold on to,” Dr. Aiken said.

There were also quite a few students from the class of  2023 who had concerns about the price of the gowns. They were worried that any price increase would be taken from senior class funds, which are already lower than what they should be coming out of the pandemic. They feared having to pay more for gowns would take away from other opportunities for the seniors.

Mrs. Thiel confirmed that the new gown design will cost more than previous years, but she also confirmed that Dr. Aiken agreed to have the district pay for whatever extra cost may come with the new gown design.

With all these factors to consider, many have been wondering if this whole process has been worthwhile.

This graduation gown is just one piece of the larger work that really needs to get done. I feel like how we treat each other is more important than the color of our graduation gown. I feel like there’s so much more we could be and should be doing.

— Dr. Sean Aiken

“We’ve put such a negative light on our district with all of our in-fighting. I wish we would have had time to focus on the positivity that we do here because we do so many good things here that we’re not focusing on and we’re not advertising all the good stuff we’re doing. We’re worried about caps and gowns,” Mrs. Thiel said.

Everyone from parents, students, community members, and even those from nearby districts, wanted to be heard. Although a majority seem to disagree with this change, there are many people who view this change as one that should have happened years ago.

“It’s good, and long overdue. I always thought it was silly to have this binary of blue and white. When I was a student here, there was a girl who graduated a year ahead of me who really wanted to wear a blue gown. She had to fight all year and I just remember thinking how silly, this is a stupid robe. Why are we losing our minds over this?” Mrs. Anne Loudon, Shaler Area graduate and current high school teacher, said.

Mrs. Loudon has three kids who went to Shaler Area, one of whom graduated with the class of 2022 and was involved in student government in the midst of all these changes.

“Yes, a change needed to happen, but you can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. I think that it was wise to wait until this year and give everyone the warning that this was going to happen. The choice was made for a positive reason. On graduation day, the students will present a united front,” Mrs. Loudon said.

There are many people who are still upset about the change, however, more people seem to be accepting of the change.

“The gowns could be a lot worse. Although I wish we still wore the blue and white gowns, I’m okay with the decision,” junior Josie Wilkins said.

While the cap and gown issue is settled, Dr. Aiken hopes that there will be new things to focus on to improve the district.

“This graduation gown is just one piece of the larger work that really needs to get done.” Dr. Aiken said. “I feel like how we treat each other is more important than the color of our graduation gown. I feel like there’s so much more we could be and should be doing.”