By Bria Ellis, Nicholas Musumeci, and Rongyi Zhang
Around 100 senior students from Ward Melville High School organized a protest last Wednesday to resist a recent school decision to change caps and gowns for upcoming graduates to single color sets.
Shortly after students held a walkout last Wednesday, the school administration board issued a letter to parents and students to explain the reason for the change.“It is our hope that creating a unifying color scheme will eliminate the anxiety that is caused by forcing a young adult to wear a gown that labels them differently than how they identify.”
The dispute started a week before the protest. On Feb. 28, a senior student created an online petition to gather signatures from people who were not willing to change cap and gown colors. “The decision was made without consulting anyone’s real opinion,” Max Gironda, the author of the online petition, said. “A lot of people in our community disagree with the change because it goes against the tradition we have had for 50 years.”
“This has been a tradition for all of the classes before us to wear their school colors one last time and this should not be changed,” the petition states. The petition has reached its goal of 1000 signatures. Wednesday, March 8 students and parents plan to attend a Board of Education meeting with the intention of finding a middle ground.
“The process of making this change was hidden from us till 4 months before our graduation and we had no say,” Robert Brando, a senior a Ward Melville. “We had a chance to speak to our administration they completely shut down all of our alternatives that didn’t involve gender but kept the green and gold gowns.” These alternatives include handing out gowns based on alphabetical order instead of gender. There has not been any response from the administration about the ideas.
Petitions in favor of the changes have also emerged. Brianna La Sita, a student at the high school, started a change.org petition in favor of the new gowns. “We should all graduate as a united class, accepting our differences and embracing what makes us a diverse population of people in order to improve our society as a whole,” La Sita added in the description of the petition. The petition has 671 supporters as of March 7. LaStia said this issue has been resolved and she is not really interested in further discussing.
“There has been a divide in the school on the situation which I found to be unfortunate,” Matthew Costello, student government official at Ward Melville, said. Principal Baum and the administration wanted to unify students but many felt further separated. “He wanted to make us as unified as possible, but instead separated us even more,” Brandon Ciullo, another senior student, said.
“I almost wish they had led with the point that separating the genders has no place in public education, instead of only pointing out the welcome benefit to transgender students,” Michele McTernan, Class of ‘76 graduate and mother of three Ward Melville graduates said. “But isn’t the larger point that gender shouldn’t get in the way of education and all the life events it comprises, whether it’s wearing a gown or using a bathroom?”
Ward Melville is not the first school to switch to single colored gowns. Schreiber high school, in Port Washington, made the change last year.
“The fact that many people are devoting their time and energy to argue that some of their classmates should be uncomfortable on graduation simply because they think two colors look prettier than one is disgusting, Olivia Lane, Ward Melville senior, said.