Ionia High School bans graduation cap decoration

IONIA, Mich. – Graduation is considered a rite of passage for students. Many like to have their mortarboards decorated while receiving their diplomas. But at Ionia High School, everyone will look the same this year. Principal Ben Gurk sent out a note this week that declared that decorated caps will not be allowed.

That is not sitting well with some students and parents.

“This is something that you’re taking away not only from their senior year but from the rest of their lives,” says Abby Read, a 2016 graduate of Ionia High School. “This is something they are going to show their children, their grandchildren, and not having that is just going to be sad.”

Some students are upset because they’ve already spent a lot of time preparing the decorations. Some of them wanted to decorate the mortarboards to honor loved ones.

“My best friend lost his mom this year,” says Taylor Osborne, a graduating senior, "and he wanted to honor her through his cap. They had planned that early on. And now that he can’t do that, he’s a bit distraught.”

“My grandma passed away three years ago, and I was really close with her,” says senior Mackenzie Bongard, "and I was going to put something on my graduation cap. And it’s personal, because now I can’t honor her on my cap."

Principal Gurk told FOX 17 News the graduation ceremony is a formal event, and he wants it to be respectable and classy for the entire community. He said drawing on mortarboards takes away from that respect and some could be inappropriate.

Gurk also said he is willing to meet with anyone who has concerns about the decision.

FOX 17 News also spoke with Superintendent Ron Wilson, who said he stands behind the principal’s decision.

Students started a petition they want to take to the school board in an effort to reverse the decoration ban. They've nearly reached their goal of 1,000 signatures.

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11 comments

  • Kevin Rahe

    I think the root of the problem is that people don’t take the time to really get to know other people these days. Instead of talking to a person sitting next to us, we’re wearing earbuds and living in our own world. And then because no one knows how we’re different from others on the inside, we feel a need to differentiate ourselves from others by what we look like on the outside, which we do by the clothes we wear, styling or coloring our hair in novel ways, piercing our bodies in unconventional places and painting our skin in a wide array of colors, designs and locations. And now some feel that not even for a couple hours at a once-in-a-lifetime event can they appear just like everyone else. How did we get here?

    • Vicki

      I respectfully disagree. I don’t think it has anything to do with wanting to look different for them than everyone else. I have been to multiple graduations (some of them college graduations) where the graduates had decorated their caps. And it was always about celebrating their accomplishments and showing their PRIDE in those accomplishments. Some decorated theirs with the name of the college that they were accepted to, some with branches of the military that they would be going into, some decorate them in honor of loved ones who passed to help them feel like they are part of their special day, and some were just inspirational quotes that helped them get through to this day. Whatever their reasoning is for wanting to decorate a cap that they have purchased with their money (because the caps ar NOT provided by the schools), I feel that they should be able to be proud of themselves. And if that means expressing their pride or feelings on their caps so that everyone can see it, then they should be allowed to do so. After all, it is THEIR day, and they have spent the past 13 years working towards this day. And as part of those years, and in all of their teachings, as they had papers to write or assignments to do, I am sure they were told to be creative and to express themselves. Now all of the sudden they are being told that it is wrong to express themselves in a creative way? So now we want them to believe that they need to just ignore all of that and be just like everyone else? THAT is wrong!

    • Catherine F

      I understand where you’re coming from completely, and agree with much of what you are saying. As an IHS graduate, I can confirm that this has been a tradition for years and years and ending that would be saddening to nearly the entire community. Also, my mother along with many other parents love that they are able to identify their child among the rest of the blue and white-clad individuals. From my experience with Ionia High School’s cap decorating tradition, none of the caps (that I or anyone I know were aware of) were disrespectful or vulgar, in fact, most of them were decorated to celebrate the college they were to attend in the fall or included religious beliefs dear to the student. My cap had a bulldog (Ionia’s mascot), a panther (my college’s mascot) along with Ionia’s marching band’s cadence, as a goodbye to high school marching band and a hello to my new university’s marching band. I think that standing out in this situation is more than just standing out for the sake of standing out, but more as just giving one last hurrah to your experience as a high school student.

  • Jim

    Decorating the mortar boards is not just a local tradition…many schools across the state have seen this for at least the past dozen years. Typically, students put the logo of where they are going to college on the top or use that school’s colors at least. Honestly, when they wear the cap correctly, only those seated above floor level would see it, but since many students wear the caps tilted backward, you do see more of the decorations. I have never heard of students honoring those that have passed away. I usually see the colleges/universities or branch of military depicted. I’m sure if you searched MLive for Class of 2016 graduations, you would see many schools allow it to occur.

  • J.F.

    The stajce that it is not professional is totally a mattef of opinion. I would agree that there be guidelines regarding profanity and obnoxious graphics, however, if the University of Michigan deems it appropriate, and they actually had a contest this year to celebrate the caps with the best designs, how do administrators at IHS actually defend this decision? Link to affirm Attached: http://commencement.umich.edu/spring-commencement/grad-cap-contest/

  • J.F.

    The stance that it is not professional is totally a matter of opinion. I would agree that there be guideline,s regarding profanity and obnoxious graphics, however, if the University of Michigan deems it appropriate, and they actually had a contest this year to celebrate the caps with the best designs, how do administrators at IHS actually defend this decision? Link to affirm Attached: http://commencement.umich.edu/spring-commencement/grad-cap-contest/