Fenton High changes graduation gowns

Bree Soule, Online Editor-in-Chief

Recently at the senior class meeting on Sept. 28, an announcement was made that the graduation gown design had been changed. It switched from the previous years’ plain black gowns for men and plain white gowns for women to a universal black and orange gown for all.

This decision was officially made by administration, but brought to the table by Fenton Youth Initiative (FYI) students last April. The “graduation gowns initiative” was brought up by FYI’s 2020-2021 Gender Inequality Committee.

“The idea to work towards equal graduation gowns was a unanimous decision among FYI,” senior Fiona Dunlop, Co-President and Co-Founder of FYI, said. “As soon as it was brought up by a few of our members, the whole club was asked what they thought and the response was loud and clear: this was a good and necessary change.”

The reasons presented behind this change include the following: most schools in surrounding areas have one color, the black and white gowns create rigid boxes for gender, gender-neutral gowns show all students as equal, Fenton used to have one color for all graduates, the white gowns were virtually see-through— which gave the females issues finding clothing to wear underneath— as well as uniting the Class of 2022 after the recent pandemic.

“Currently, choosing between white and black means choosing a gender identity, which is not simple for every Fenton student,” Principal Laura Lemke said. “The Class of 2022 has been through a lot in the past 18 months, and we wanted to find a way to bring all of them together as a class to celebrate all that they have accomplished, and the difficult times they have experienced.”

The new design is all black with orange sleeve cuffs and the Fenton Tigers logo on the left arm. The new design was created by a mixture of FYI, as well as input from the administration and cap and gown vendor Herff Jones. The addition of the orange and logo is a $2 increase from a plain black gown. This price increase also has to do with the cost increases and supply chain issues in the market. This change was originally considered to be put up to a vote by the student body, but Fenton High’s new cap and gown vendor, Herff Jones, advised against this.

“Interestingly when meeting with the vendor, there was discussion about creating two sample gowns and putting it up to a vote,” Lemke said. “The representative indicated that was a bad idea because, in his experience, half will like one gown and the other half will like the other. He recommended instead that it be a smaller group decision with administration making the final determination.”

Originally, the idea of having all orange gowns was mentioned; however, the administration quickly decided against this because of an orange shadow/glow it casted on students’ faces. Although the orange gowns were nixed, Lemke stated that “the conversations continued to happen.”

With the graduation gown design and colors changing, parents who have planned to pass down previously purchased gowns to their younger children no longer have this option and will be required to accommodate to the new design by purchasing a new gown. This isn’t simple for every Fenton family. To accommodate this issue, FYI had to come up with a fundraising plan.

“[Creating a fundraising plan] is something that we find essential and are working on diligently to accomplish,” Dunlop said. “At this moment, FYI is still talking with Herff Jones and FHS Counselors in order to figure out just how much money needs to be raised. Furthermore, Herff Jones has been kind enough to donate just under an extra dozen gowns in order to accommodate Fenton students. Assuming this will not be enough, FYI is planning to spearhead some sort of fundraiser in the coming weeks, depending on how much we’ll need to raise. Ensuring that every Fenton student is accounted for is our number one priority.”

Not everyone has been happy with the decision to change the graduation gowns. Shortly after the change was announced, a petition was created by a Fenton community member. The title being, “FHS entire student body should be able to vote on the new grad gowns.” This petition was posted on change.org and currently has 170 signatures. 

In the description, a list of reasons were provided as to why the decision should be put to a vote: the decision was made by a very small portion of the student body— 3 percent of the entire student body and 9 percent of the senior class, the black and white gowns have been tradition for some time, it would be more unifying to let all the seniors vote instead of separating most out of the decision, the new gown design looks tacky and not classy, as well as the girls wanted to wear the white gowns.

“Rather than discourage such initiative and maturity, supporting these students and letting them work through an issue from start to end is an important learning process,” Lemke said. “Although some may disagree with the outcome, hopefully all can at least agree with the intent.”

While the petition itself encourages administration to put the decision to a vote, the description of the petition agrees with the fact that the decision was made under good intentions.

“I know that change is difficult to accept, especially when it seems to come about so quickly,” Dunlop said. “But take solace in the fact that this change is for the better. I hope that we can all choose to be united in this opportunity to move forward as a school, that we can choose to be united and equal. I hope we can choose to step out of the shadows of the past and into the light of the present. It was time for a change, and I hope we can all stand behind it.”

To order the new graduation gown, fill out the form online at highschool.herffjones.com.