Zebra-striped Caps and Gowns for Everyone!

Okay, so here’s the issue: our local high school suddenly shows off new graduation gowns that are supposedly a blending of the girls’ gold and the boys’ black, with a small WW insignia below the collar. Cue the firestorm!

My Facebook newsfeed filled with tears and girls posting that they weren’t going to be caught dead in such a thing. I completely understand if you think it’s ugly. Listen: my high school varsity baseball team wore all yellow. Yellow. We were friggin’ VIKINGS, and our secondary color was maroon. We could have represented survivors from a bloody (maroon) battle, but instead we were … canary-like. We were bananas. We never struck fear unloading from our (yellow) bus at away games.

I get the ugly thing. It’s a matter of taste. And tradition? Well, team uniforms change. Is there really a deep tradition in presenting the graduating class in either black or yellow (sorry, the girls’ gowns are not all that gold.) I guess I’m suspicious when someone uses the term tradition when it comes to a once-in-a-lifetime event. Is your sense of tradition offended because you aren’t wearing the same gown as your older brother? Do you line pics up on the piano and want visitors to be sure to know you went to the same high school?

The argument about senior pics not matching graduation day pics is certainly valid if you require continuity in your scrapbooks. “This is my senior yearbook photo, but they screwed us over and made us wear a different gown at graduation.” Meh. As a parent of a senior, I’m not particularly thrown off by the change. I don’t see any aunts or uncles being skeptical that our kid actually graduated, lifting a hand and saying ‘wait a second, what’s going on here’. Heck, I’m hoping like crazy for a sunny day next June that creates photos that look nothing like those silly studio light head shots.

So what are we really upset about? Let’s dive in …

There have been recent cases around the country of transgender kids wanting to wear the color gown in which they identify. In Chicago, a girl went through her entire elementary, middle and high school career as an outgoing, happy, well-adjusted kid. She was a cheerleader and on the homecoming court. She had a weighted 4.65 GPA and is headed to the University of Chicago on a full ride. But midway through her senior year, a parent of a friend discovered the dirty little secret that she had been born a male. Holy hell ensued because, well, that’s certainly worthy of holy hell. How dare this girl say she’s a girl! I mean, how dare this boy who everyone knew and loved as a girl claim she’s a girl!

After all, look at what happened when we allowed gay boys into the showers with our straight boys. Look at the devastation that occurred. There were orgies and beheadings and, well, civilization has never been so disrupted. Did we learn nothing from allowing those nine black kids into Little Rock schools 60 years ago? Blacks were going to rape our precious white daughters. The American education system was doomed. Some of us blame the Vietnam War on those nine little black kids (it came after that, right?) And if not for them, we would have beaten the USSR to the moon!

The School Board in that Chicago suburb at first told the offended parent to pound sand, to which she reacted by writing a check to an attorney and threatening a lawsuit for NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES. I mean, c’mon, how dare a girl (I mean boy) have long hair, wear feminine clothes, and choose a female nickname? How can an offended parent be expected to sleep at night when such crimes are happening? It was in the Bible, wrote the offended parent’s attorney. Yes, he wrote, this is a public school that’s two blocks from a lovely Bible School, but our Christian values are offended (and the Bible School has a $4000 tuition.)

This premise, of course, also applies to cisgender kids (those whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) who are offended with requirements to wear “BOY” or “GIRL” uniforms in a public school.

So the School Board did what School Boards sometimes do. They held a gown burning party and ponied up $16.50 times 453 students to buy zebra striped (no, I’m kidding, they were all-black) gowns for everyone.

The next step, of course, was to grab pitchforks and torches and practice catchy “Hang the tranny” chants.

It went like this:

“What do we want?
To hang the tranny!
Whose going to do it?
We are!”

Jesus, it cramps my fingers to even type that.

So let’s review where we are. Our school district has been around for 47 years. I have no clue when girls were required to wear yellow (gold, dammit!) and boys were required to wear black. Did they have gowns here in 1969? Or the early 70s? Someone out there knows when it began. And now we are faced with change. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the new gowns. But it’s just a taste thing. I’m not sure how the NHS collar will look with the gold neck. But on a scale of 1 to 10, the gown is about a 1 on my indignation scale. Eh, a 10 would mean I was leaving the country over it. And, most of all, nobody has invited me to wear one anyway, so …

I guess I look back at the Chicago case and wonder what would have happened if the School Board had voted into the RULE BOOK that kids could wear the color gown of their choice. If they had recognized that the Earth would not have suddenly stopped rotating had they encouraged kids to be themselves and told Gladys Kravtiz (awesome Bewitched reference!) and her lawyer to mind their own business.

And why do we seem to always bow down to that small group that inconveniences the hell out of all the rest of us? Why are we treated so shabbily just to mollify a few? The answer is that it’s what our founding fathers required of Americans. It is what makes us great (not those red baseball caps made in China.) What concerned our founding fathers were the pitfalls of a tyranny of the majority, acknowledging that in a free and righteous society we needed to ensure that the majority did not make laws without regard for the rights and welfare of the minority. It’s in the US Constitution. Amendments and junk. I swear. So blame all those expensive ramps into libraries that granny uses on Hamilton and Madison. Those men somehow knew she would get hooked on the Twilight vampire series.

My final word is that if you think the gowns are ugly and it pisses you off that administration didn’t ask for your feedback, I hear ya. But let me introduce you to a solution: fire up your World Wide Internets and type your way over to The Google. Once there, search for the price of 200 cap and gowns. Then poke around for nifty fundraising ideas. If it’s easier to bitch than attack your way to a solution, well, the multi-color gown you’re wearing in June will likely be your last, so have Mom shoot lots of Polaroids. Is that overly snarky? I’m sorry. But if it really means so much to you, and if you are legitimately offended by the style and the fact that you weren’t consulted, it’s your move. Outsmart the lawyers and the administration, and rise above the finger pointing and the vulgar hate.

Good luck, Class of 2018. Be better than us adults. Make us proud. And, as the song goes, wear sunscreen.

About colealpaugh

Cole Alpaugh's newspaper career began in the early 80s, starting with small daily papers in Maryland and Massachusetts, where his stories won national awards. His most recent job was at a large daily in Central New Jersey, where his "true life" essays included award-winning pieces on a traveling rodeo and an in-depth story on an emergency room doctor that was nominated by Gannett News Service for a 1991 Pulitzer Prize. Cole also contracted with two Manhattan-based news agencies, covering conflicts in Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Thailand and Cambodia. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, as well as most newspapers in America. Cole is currently a freelance photographer and novelist living in Northeast Pennsylvania, where he spends afternoons in a virtual running race around the equator, and evenings watching his daughter's magical stage performances. You can find him online at ColeAlpaugh.com.
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