Graduating Seniors Question ‘Unfair’ Commencement Attire Policies


Photo courtesy of Kapi'o News

Charvie Duque’s graduation cap was crafted and personalized to honor her father, who passed away in 2011.

Graduating environmental and interior design major Lisa Mahoney had been waiting since high school for a chance to finally decorate her cap and gown. However, due to Chaminade’s strict rules on graduation attire, she still can’t fulfill her wish.

According to the university’s website, graduates are not allowed to have any form of decorations on their caps and gowns. Graduates are also not allowed to wear leis during the ceremony. 

The website states that Chaminade believes that the ceremony is a “special, dignified affair” and that students are only allowed to wear cords, stashes, and/or stoles that are given by the university.

“I feel like it’s unfair,” Mahoney said. “… I grew up going to a Catholic school, and in high school I didn’t get to do it. I thought in a college environment it would have changed a little bit, and when I read we still couldn’t, I got really, really upset about it.”

Mahoney, who had been wanting to decorate her cap for her graduation, wished to pin on quotes and sayings that meant a lot to her. She had already started to decorate her cap once it came in the mail, until a friend showed her an email sent by the school regarding commencement proceedings.

“It was gonna be another extension of me besides what I did as a major,” the 22-year-old senior said. “So it wasn’t gonna be necessarily related to interior design, but it was gonna be related to that personal part of me that I’m allowed to show … because I have to basically dress like I’m going to an interview for graduation.”

In addition to no decorations, graduates are also required to wear certain clothes. Under their all-black gowns, males must wear dark dress slacks, a white collared shirt, and dress shoes while women must wear a dress or dress slacks with a top and low heels or flats.

For other schools like the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University, regulations regarding dress code and cap and gown decorations are more lenient.

On the University of Hawaii at Manoa website, there is no specific dress code mentioned other than not being allowed to make alterations to the gown, and graduates are to “refrain from decorating your caps with items that will obstruct the view” of their fellow graduates.

As for Hawaii Pacific University, its website states that graduates may decorate their caps “within reason.” Any cap decorations must also not block the view of others. In addition, HPU only “recommends” certain attire under the gown.

“[The rules are] a little bit more outdated,” Mahoney said. “The fact that we’re wearing all black caps and gowns … it’s more aggravating that I don’t get to express myself through decorating the top of the cap because we are just having basically black everything. So we’re all just gonna be a sea of black.”

Other seniors like Mahoney also share her sentiments. Benjamin Reynolds, who is also graduating this May, believes the current rules don’t make sense.

“It’s graduation, a time of celebration – why wouldn’t we be allowed us to express ourselves,” Reynolds said.

The 22-year-old political science major believes that the school should remove the dress code and be more open.

“I’ve been paying so much to this school for the past two years that I’ve been here,” Reynolds said. “It bothers me that I still don’t have the freedom to decorate my cap that I paid for.”

Filmore Timothy, a graduating senior majoring in international relations, feels the same way.

“[Graduates] can’t express themselves and I feel like they have the total right to do that especially after four years of being here,” Timothy said. “You want to make this graduation ceremony special.”

In addition to the cap decoration policy, Timothy also believes that the dress code should be changed as well.

“I don’t know why it matters; we’re wearing a gown over it,” Timothy said. “I don’t know why we have to wear white over black.”

Graduating communications major Jacqueline Yoshimura also believes that the policies regarding graduation should be revised.

“I really don’t see a problem as long as it’s tasteful, appropriate, and doesn’t affect the way the cap looks,” Yoshimura said.

Although the 22-year-old senior does not care about decorating her own cap, she still believes that everyone should have the option to.

“I just don’t have the time or desire to do it, but I’m sure a lot of other people would,” Yoshimura said. “… Sprinkling a little glitter or adding some artwork shouldn’t do any harm.”