The Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 school board voted 6-1 during a regular meeting on Oct. 25 to switch to caps and gowns as the official commencement garb, replacing the more than century-old tradition of formal attire, mainly suits and dresses. Board member Fred Arkin voted against the motion.
At that same meeting, the board voted unanimously against moving this school year’s graduation ceremony to the UIC Pavilion in Chicago.
The attire change has drawn both support and backlash among students and families. Some parents during the Oct. 25 meeting said the board’s decision to change the tradition would undermine the preference of most graduating seniors to continue the formal attire tradition.
That preference, they argued, has been shown in various polls taken over the last few years in which most graduating seniors who have voted have favored suits and gowns.
Some supporters of the attire change, however, have said it was necessary in order to address the pain and suffering of non-cisgender students who must face the choice of either outing themselves on graduation day or not participating in the milestone ceremony.
Although most board members were in favor of the attire change, they also came to the consensus that the decision to change graduation attire should not have come before the board in the first place. Technically, the change is one for district administrators to make.
“We put forth policy,” said board member Tom Cofsky. “This is really a debate of tradition versus social justice, and I think we’ve made it really clear in our policy that we’re supportive of social justice.”
Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, however, said the administration brought the issue before the board because the magnitude of the change justified board support. She likened the attire change to the district’s recent overhaul of its gender equity policy.
The latter action didn’t need board approval either, but the board nonetheless voted on it because of the magnitude of the changes, the superintendent said.
In addition to the attire change, the administration had also recommended moving the graduation ceremony to the UIC Pavilion, citing significant cost savings, the much smaller capacity of campus facilities, the scarcity of tickets and the deteriorating conditions of OPRF’s facilities, especially the field house, which presents discomfort for disabled guests.
The board voted unanimously against the recommendation, citing, among other things, a lack of information to justify such a major modification to OPRF’s graduation tradition.
“There is no … data to make this decision,” said board member Fred Arkin, adding that OPRF would “be just another high school graduating in [UIC’s] facility” if the move were made.
“We take pride in our traditions and we should not be so cavalier to dismiss them,” Arkin said.