Should NHS Students Be Recognized at Graduation?
BY NOSARA MAXWELL ’23
Beneath the early sun on Leary Field, hundreds of students in blue gowns walk across the stage to receive their long-awaited diplomas. This moment follows years of hard work and dedication put into high school. But as you watch Acton-Boxborough Regional High School’s graduation, you may notice one difference in the attire of the graduating class: differentiation among colored tassels on their graduation caps. At ABRHS, students who are members of the National Honor Society (NHS) wear white tassels on their graduation caps while most students don the standard yellow tassel.
NHS students are nationally recognized for academic success, commitment to community service, and organizing local events. The tassels celebrate this achievement by visually highlighting their distinct role in the community. The difference, however, has sparked recent controversy in the ABRHS community when a parent criticized it in the AB School Community Facebook group; this conflict spotlights AB’s continuous struggle to balance achievement and academic rigor with student mental health. Liz McGovern, a parent to four AB graduates and a current senior, posted a petition asking the ABRHS administration to eliminate the different-colored tassels. The Facebook post gained attention as it circulated throughout the community, accumulating over 140 comments. Community members maintained strong stances for and against this petition.
“There are so many divisions throughout high school, and this is one day that the class should be united as one group. I think that the tassels can interfere with that sort of sense of unity,” she commented. In her letter, McGovern explained that this may cause some students to feel “shame or humiliation” that they do not have the symbolic white tassel of the National Honor Society.
To be considered for membership, students must reach the requisite GPA and various other criteria: “Leadership, scholarship, community service, and character,” explained Mary Price Maddox, who is the advisor for the Raymond J. Grey Chapter of NHS at ABRHS. “[GPA] is just one small part of it. We look at a commitment to community service, leadership development, and students of high character.”
For many, NHS membership is a great achievement. Gianna Fiore ’22, who worked hard toward her acceptance in NHS, explained her perspective: “A symbol of success is something that should be celebrated and embraced by the community, especially by the school that helped you achieve it, not something that you hide. While it might be just a tassel to some people, it is so much more to me and my fellow peers as we have embodied what being part of the NHS means.”
While many ABRHS students agreed with Fiore, some argued against her statement. “Students in the NHS are students in an outside organization, just like many other students,” said one senior. This student mentioned that the addition of different-colored tassels unravels the district’s work to minimize a focus on grades.
Many community members want to honor a greater range of achievements to dissipate the extreme focus on academic classification. They feel that rather than eliminate a national tradition, the district should alter it to be more inclusive.
“I think a large aspect of this debate is that AB, unlike other schools, doesn't have graduates earn cords for graduation. Typically, NHS members would simply wear their NHS cord around their neck as a representation of their membership, but students would also wear a variety of other cords to express their many achievements,” noted Alissa Horton ’22. She felt that AB’s uncommon graduation practices may be contributing to the tassel controversy.
Many agreed that there would be less of an issue if there were other tangible indicators of achievement on graduation day. “Rather than take away a tassel that is designated to NHS students who have completed substantial community service work, the school should allow clubs, choruses, and other organizations to wear their own cords and medals,” stated a senior at AB. They want everyone to gain recognition for their accomplishments, not just the National Honor Society.
Reflecting on the discussion that followed her letter, McGovern said, “I appreciate everyone's perspective…I'm glad that we're having this discussion. It's not easy. It's not clear-cut, but I appreciate that people are thinking about it.” The Acton-Boxborough community will watch this debate as graduation nears; many do not expect any changes to occur, but many acknowledge the respectful discussion that McGovern sparked with her post.