A decades-old tradition came to end last week at the graduation ceremony for Riverside-Brookfield High School’s Class of 2018. After years of girls wearing white graduation gowns and boys wearing blue gowns, this year all the graduates wore blue.
Some students thought the change to blue graduation gowns for everyone was a reaction to the presence of a handful of transgender students in the graduating class and a reaction to current sensibilities.
But RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana says that the decision to have all students wear blue gowns was the result of more prosaic concerns and not related to the presence of transgender students in the graduating class and at the school.
According to Smetana, the school’s administrative team decided to make the change last year after discussing the matter with the provider of the gowns. At RBHS, students buy their graduation gowns. The change to just one color also makes it easier to provide gowns to students who cannot afford to purchase one.
“After talking to Jostens last year, we were of one of the few high schools that still used two colors,” Smetana said in an email. “It helps us provide caps and gowns to students last minute who forget to order one, as we purchase a few that we gave to students last minute. Additionally, each year we purchase caps and gowns for students who cannot afford one. Moving to one color allows us to provide these students with a gently used cap and gown rather than having to purchase new ones each year.”
Smetana said that administrators met with a few students last year before making the decision.
Some students assumed and believe the decision to switch to blue gowns for all was, at least in part, due to the presence of transgender students. But, some girls did not like wearing white gowns because, if you wore dark clothes under the gown, it often showed through.
“From what I heard the color change mostly came from girls complaining about having to wear white dresses so it didn’t show through, but a lot of trans kids have benefited,” said Emmett Brundage who graduated from RBHS last week and is transgender. “Before, a lot of trans kids had to make a choice between wearing a color that didn’t fit their identities and outing themselves in front of the whole ceremony. This is a good step.”
But another transgender student, Casey Jones, who just completed his sophomore year at RBHS, had a different opinion. Jones wrote an opinion piece last month for the Clarion, the RBHS student newspaper, decrying the change to blue graduation gowns for all.
Jones wrote that the switch to blue gowns for all was “a very bad decision.”
“As a transgender man, I want to feel like the other guys when I graduate,” Jones wrote. “I feel like having a separation of colors can define how someone like me would feel in this case.”
In an interview with the Landmark Jones explained his reasoning.
“I want to feel as part of the other guys,” Jones said. “For me, it felt a little odd that they would try to change the colors.”
Casey Whisler, a 2018 graduate, liked having every graduate wear the same color.
“I definitely think it’s a good decision, because I didn’t really see the point in the gender division,” Whisler said.
Many graduates didn’t seem to care very much what color their robe was. They just wanted to graduate.
“I didn’t really think much of it at all,” said Olutosin Olowu. “I guess they wanted a more unified student body without any problems with technicalities. I know some people were bothered by it, but I thought it was fine. I was just happy to get my diploma.”