Recently, at the senior meeting–an annual gathering where the administration explains expectations and events for the graduating class–Principal Paul Belzer revealed plans for making graduation gowns one color, rather than allowing students to choose between red and white. Traditionally at BHS, males tend to pick red graduation gowns, and females tend to pick white graduation gowns. About two weeks later, Belzer revealed that this proposal would be enforced, and the class of 2017 would have one graduation gown color: primarily red with a streak of white.
Belzer explained the intention of the switch to the seniors at the meeting. He wanted not only to provide a sense of unity for the graduating class, but also to support students who don’t identify with a particular gender and thus may feel pressured to pick a color. Belzer also mentioned that many of the other schools in the district have had one color graduation gowns for years. San Mateo High School, for example, has black graduation gowns with a streak of orange, to represent their school colors. The only school in the district that lets each student choose the color of their graduation gown is Aragon High School.
“I feel our school values mutual respect, unity, and pride,” Belzer said. “I see our students work hard and commit themselves every day, in the classroom, on the stage, and in athletic competitions. I think the gowns signify the importance of unity and pride as Burlingame Panthers.”
Similarly, Mr. Belzer commented on graduation itself as a unifying experience.
“I have always appreciated the idea of the bond the graduates share. It is a special event for students, their families, and the school. Even though everyone's experience is unique in getting to there, graduation is a special bond that unites graduates, knowing full well each will move on to a new journey immediately following the graduation ceremony,” Belzer said.
After Belzer explained the proposal, various seniors, some of who supported the move and some of who opposed it, stood up to speak.
Hannah De La Calle was one of these students. She supported the proposal, although she believed students should be able to decide what kind of design and color(s) the graduation gown would feature.
“I think he’s got good intent,” De La Calle said. “I support the idea of having unity, and of supporting those who don’t identify with a specific gender, but I want to be able to choose what that unified color is. I don’t want it to be like ‘here, we’ve chosen for you.’ In the end, this is our graduation, and we want to look the way we want to look. This is our only high school graduation; when we look at these pictures, these will be our memories of this graduation.”
Similarly, other students showed strong support for the switch from two colors to one.
"I’m really happy with the one choice color because although personally, I know that I would look better with white, I don’t really care because if it allows other teens who don’t identify with a specific gender, it’s worth it,” senior Priscila Tapia said. “It allows them to not feel like they have to subject to what other people are wearing.”
The depth of opinion was diverse, however, and other students disagreed with certain aspects of Belzer’s proposal.
“I understand he’s trying to create unity and that this is for a good cause,” senior Jack Cauchi said. “However, if we force everyone to wear one color there can be unforeseen consequences. A lot of boys want red, and a lot of girls want white, and if we force everyone to wear one color there, could be a lot of anger, not only towards the administration but towards each other as well.”
Other students discussed the difficulty of finding an outfit with the graduation gowns.
“I definitely understand where Mr. Belzer is coming from,” senior Sloan Cimmet said. “Creating unity is a great cause. However, it is important to keep in mind that switching to a one color gown may make it difficult to find an outfit, especially for girls.”
As mentioned earlier, it was announced that after reviewing feedback from the students and community about his proposal, Belzer and the administration came to the decision that this year, graduation gowns will be one color. Specifically, the graduation gowns will be predominantly red, with a streak of white. This design is a switch from the original colors proposed at the senior meeting–predominantly white with a streak of red.
Some students appreciated the fact that the administration changed designs after the assembly.
“I think it was very considerate of the administration to listen to student concerns and change the color from white to red,” senior Alex Pratt said. “It shows that the administration will support a good cause and still make compromises.”
Others, however, believed that the administration could have done more to incorporate student input into the decision making process.
“I think it could have been better if more students were put in the process of making the decision,” Cauchi said. “There could have [been] more student input by sending out forms and surveys. In the end, this is our high school graduation.”