Graduation Caps Off; Cash Out?
BY JULIA XIAO '24
Black caps fill the sky as hundreds of high school seniors toss them into the air. This anticipated moment, along with the ceremonies, senior trips, and parties are all events that celebrate senior graduation. Although the traditional elements of graduation express pride in students, increasing costs cause a disparity between those who can and cannot afford to celebrate. The initial spirit of graduation has changed as seniors spend too much money in order to check off what is “normal,” and this development shows a growing separation.
Over time, symbolic actions developed to recognize seniors’ achievements. During the 13th–14th centuries in England, gowns became popular in universities. One reason for their popularity was to show status as a scholar. Another tradition, attaching tassels, which would first be worn on the right side of the hat and then flipped to the left after receiving the diploma, signified a rite of passage and new stage of life. Graduation caps were introduced in the 14th–15th centuries, worn by artists and students to signify intelligence and superiority. The traditions of a gown, tassel, and cap illustrate how graduation is rooted in celebrating wealth. Furthermore, for those not attending college, high school graduation acknowledges the achievement of at least twelve years of school.
Nowadays, certain aspects of graduation have become social expectations. Two modern day graduation norms are parties and senior trips, which although fun, are costly. According to The Los Angeles Times, travel agencies started to offer packaged week-long vacations in the 1970–80s. Students drawn in by the promise of a final celebration with friends would spend large amounts of money, ostracizing people unable to pay out because of their circumstances. Furthermore, graduation parties always include food, entertainment, decorations, and more. The costs of either hosting or attending can be burdensome. Social media posts of the glamorous and fun parties spread the message that everyone should participate, yet joining in is not possible for everyone, creating disparity. Additionally, even attendees might be worried about wearing the right outfit, drinking, and more. Overall, it can be said that parties such as these do not properly encapsulate the emotions of highschool, and restraint with the expectations and spending of senior events is worthwhile.
Additionally, the US is separated into financial classes that have vastly different graduation experiences. Lower income communities have fewer resources available to support students to a successful graduation, illustrating the separation between affluent and lower income areas. In particular, the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website states that in 2021, the four-year graduation rate of all students in the state was 89.8%, but only 81.7% for low income students. Among other revelations, these statistics display the difference in opportunity, as non-graduates do not receive diplomas. In this way, money influences the graduation ceremonies that students experience. Some do not even have this luxury because their opportunities for learning are disadvantaged.
Even at AB, there are barriers to enjoying a relaxing graduation. The high school website states a minimum $170 senior due, which covers the cap and gown, yearbook, senior outing, and T-Shirt. To be impartial, the fee can be discussed with the counseling department. However, it can be embarrassing for someone to have to reach out. In addition, the cost increases with other potential payments such as pictures, which is a burden for many people; AB’s senior photo options are almost over $100, far more than the regular price. Photos and yearbooks matter because graduates want to commemorate their time in high school, but the price takes the chance away from those who can not afford it. These expenses betray the original purpose of graduation, which is celebrating the finish of a stage in life.
The costs of graduation can hurt seniors from experiencing the pleasant graduation that they deserve after completing their high school journey. Potential inequalities can be reduced by not making trips or parties seem like an expectation and having awareness that not everyone can afford them. One step that can be made in our community is reducing or eliminating the mandatory fee while fundraising elsewhere. High school graduations ought to be happy, not stressful, and graduates deserve to have fun that is inclusive to all.