Chamberlain Students Decorate Graduation Caps; Superintendent Withholds Transcripts

Chamberlain just can’t get its high school seniors out the door without making someone mad. Managing to avoid any blow-up this year over its resistance to respecting Lakota culture in its graduation ceremony, the Chamberlain school board this year decided to torque off a few dozen seniors by banning innocuous decorations from graduation caps.

As far as I can tell, the nearly 50 students who asked the school board for permission to decorate their hats weren’t looking to make any statements on race relations or social justice; they just wanted to add some spangles and cute messages. But the school board said no, because (a) policy says so, and (b) graduation is about on last hurrah for conformity:

“Graduation is the last time you will all be together and unified and you don’t want to take away from that,” said School Board Member Annette Priebe at the May 11 meeting [Hannah Baker, “District Will Tighten Grip on Attire After Students Decorate Caps,” Chamberlain Oacoma Sun, 2015.05.27, p. 1].

Some students found that argument uncompelling and gussied up their caps anyway. Chamberlain superintendent Debra Johnson is now withholding the transcripts of those cap-itally offending students until they come meet with her one on one.

Chamberlain says it has policy to back it up. Policy IKF/IKFA reads, “Students who are unable to meet the graduation requirements will not be permitted to participate in graduation exercises. All graduates are required to wear CHS approved caps and gowns at the graduation exercise/ceremony.”

Policy IKF/IKFA makes CHS approval of caps and gowns a graduation requirement. However, the punishment specified by the policy for failing to meet any graduation requirement is blocking the student’s participation in the graduation ceremony. Policy IKF/IKFA does not authorize the superintendent to withhold a student’s transcript. Spangle-topped students, if the administration failed to turn you away from the graduation ceremony itself, they gave up the only punishment their cited policy authorizes.

I must admit, I feel a little teapottishly tempestful here. I have marched in one graduation ceremony. I decorated my maroon cap with a big heart and the word “MOM”… which folks viewing from the stands thought read “WOW”. No one fussed, and life went on. But the Chamberlain school administration seems so determined to keep an iron grip on its graduation ceremony that it keeps making unnecessary trouble for itself.

55 Responses to Chamberlain Students Decorate Graduation Caps; Superintendent Withholds Transcripts

  1. Porter Lansing

    As a VietNam era Vermillion Liberal experience tells that a school board that is in constant confrontation with students will emerge as the loser. A student or group of students with a “disruption agenda” is more focused with less duties than a group of administrators and teachers who have much more on their plate. Also, a student who’s fulfilled the requirements for graduation and is technically done with High School needn’t follow the rules because the school has no right to impose rules on them. That’s “LIBERAL 101”, at USD. lol

  2. This really is laughable, is this the issue the school board is going to dig their heels in on?

  3. Porter Lansing

    It’s a gratifying issue. There’s a movement nationwide of students returning to the days of protest. They say it skips a generation (that being the “me” generation of the millenials) As a personal aside … I value highly the success my age group had in ending the Viet Nam War by unified civil disobedience and these kids as they grow into larger and larger groups of dissonance will feel the same when they’re old and broken down like we oldsters.

  4. Donald Pay

    I wouldn’t say the Chamberlain graduation constitutes a huge protest. It’s just kids of late high school age beginning to find and express their own identity. And, really, I don’t have a problem with the “authorities” setting down dumb rules and sputtering ridiculously and ineffectually. Part of being an educated adult is knowing which rules mean something and should be followed and which rules are just bullshit.

    Congratulations Chamberlain High School Class of 2015. You passed your final test.

  5. rollin potter

    I don’t know why the school board is getting so excited over a few kids decorating there graduation caps when in 2013 they had a local attorney set on there board while ignoring state law sdcl 13-7-3 ,holding public office incompatible with board membership, and was suspended by the South Dakota supreme court from practicing law in south Dakota for three years for diverting partnership money to his personal business account!!!! He was removed from the school board by public vote at the school election, not by the superintendent or the school board!!!!!

  6. School patrons in Chamberlain should have started replacing school board members last year. Maybe they need to look at their administration and see who is leading their school down the wrong path.

  7. Now I feel like the crusty, old curmudgeon: the very regiment of the cap and gown as the “uniform” for graduation is what denotes the importance of the ceremony. If something else is wished by the student body, then do away with the cap and gown and dress as desired. The board is right. Tradition has a place.

    The only issue here seems to be enforcement – that once these offending caps were recognized, those students ought not have been allowed to graduate under policy instead of the withholding of transcripts later?

    Note to the board, inspect the graduates to ensure they meet the dress code required BEFORE you seat them in a public ceremony.

  8. mike from iowa

    They don’t want to honor all student’s traditions,but demand all students honor school tradition? Right.

  9. Dear Chamberlain School Board,

    Here’s a little graduation gift for you! I think it is something you will be able to use.

  10. Joan Brown

    When I graduated from high school and later college and even later a technical school, graduation was supposed to be a time of dignity and the decorated mortarboards don’t show dignity. When I graduated from high school our caps and gowns were rented. Maybe schools should go back to doing that.I didn’t participate in either my college graduation or technical one. For my college one there was a long planned family reunion scheduled in another part of the state, that I wanted to attend and my technical graduation our color was burgandy but the caps and gowns were more of a bright fuschia satiny type fabric. At 50 years of age, I wasn’t going to walk across the stage in that outfit. Besides age, I also wasn’t a real small person. I wonder if schools didn’t start using the caps and gowns, so that the lower income kids wouldn’t be embarrassed if their clothes weren’t as nice as the other kids.

  11. Roger Cornelius

    As I watched President Obama deliver the commencement address earlier this month at Lake Area Tech, the cameras would pan the audience and it was obvious a number of graduates had decorated their caps.
    Well guess what! The world didn’t implode, the sky didn’t fall or any other such thing, life went on.
    Rules and traditions are not laws, sometimes they are meant to be changed to reflect the times.
    As an old guy I hope I am never too old to recognize that change won’t really hurt and that it can be down right fun sometimes.

  12. Donald Pay

    Down through history (from middle ages forward) academic dress was not meant to convey equality. It was meant to differentiate people according to rank in the school and field of study. This tradition lives on in the university setting.

    It’s a little different at the high school level, where the graduates all wear the same outfit. It’s meant to convey a profound message of equality. I think the tradition of cap and gown is great, but I think it isn’t hurt by tasteful individualization of a cap.

  13. There was about 800 in my graduating class. We had graduation on the football field. While the geezers were droning on about things like “Japs bombing Pearl Harbor”, we were out on the field swatting beach balls back and forth and throwing Frisbees and blowing bubbles, keeping the parents entertained.

    A lot of kids did little things up on the stage after they got their fake diploma (the real one came later in the mail). The most memorable one was a kid (a really, really, good magician) who flicked a long scarf out of his sleeve and it turned into a cane. Doves appeared out of nowhere and his diploma burst into flames before the geezers chased him off the stage. He didn’t go to college–he went straight to Vegas, lol.

    People are just too uptight theses days.

  14. Nick Nemec

    So will the administration really withhold transcripts for any student who decorated their mortarboard? This seems like an extreme action by a petty tyrant. I hope some, or all, of these students call their bluff.

  15. This is just asinine. To withhold a students transcript for dressing up their caps is just petty. I would hope the school board has better things to worry about than students “bedazzling” their cap. If they keep it tasteful, where is the problem?

  16. I’m mingling O’s curmudgeonliness and Donald’s mention of various distinctions in dress for achievement or different fields/degrees. We see certain graduates distinguished with National Honors Society cowls or colored tassles for various academic achievements. Perhaps we should allow caps to serve as the identity zone, an area where students may acknowledge that even as they appear in conforming solidarity with their peers one more time, they are still individuals (a healthy balance for all of us to acknowledge and practice). At the same time, if we are serous about honoring tradition, why not focus less on the appearance at the top and more on the appearance below the robe. After our President took the stage to honor our Lake Area graduates this year, how many of the men receiving degrees marched across that same stage with open-collared shirts? At another postsecondary graduation this month, I saw a recipient of a graduate degree receive his diploma with his bare legs sticking out beneath his robe and flip-flops on his hairy feet. Why not focus on a dress code beyond cap and gown?

    Do I contradict myself by asking for individuality expressed with decorum? Am I silly to be fine with messages on caps but not with shorts and flip-flops? Is there a governable difference between individualist expressions that say, “Whoo-hoo! Look at me! I’m graduating!” and those that seem to flip a bird at the institution? Am I as cranky as the school board to say that if you don’t think the ceremony is important enough to put on your necktie and good shoes, it’s not important enough for you to attend?

    However cranky the Chamberlain superintendent wants to be, she still doesn’t have policy to back her withholding of transcripts. Don’t worry, kids: your high school transcript becomes meaningless the moment you walk onto your college campus or into basic training.

  17. Nick Nemec

    Maybe the military has changed in the 32 years since I got out, but back in the day high school transcripts were meaningless even before you got to basic training. Of more importance was the battery of aptitude tests given by the military.

  18. Anybody denied their transcript should hire Edward Welch to get it for them.

  19. Joan Williams

    Visions of my own graduation debacle! I bought a long hippie dress (it was 1971, after all) for the day. A week later, at the “how graduation is going to work” meeting, we were told “NO LONG DRESSES.” Bah, humbug, I already had it, going to wear it. Mind you, I was no trouble maker. Graduated 3rd in my class, homecoming queen and all, but they got their knickers in a bunch and called my parents downstairs and made a big scene, insisting I hike up the dress so it wouldn’t show below the gown, threatening to withhold the diploma. So a borrowed a belt and tied it up. Until I starting walking up to the stage. When will administrators figure this out? 18 year old seniors are not children. Give them some slack, not the “because I said so” schtick.

  20. Hear, hear, R! And let his pay come out of the Chamberlain School Board’s budget!

  21. Point taken, Nick! I wonder how many of those grads even need that transcript.

  22. mike from iowa

    You mean the koch bros don’t already have access to graduation caps to promote KXL?

  23. Why are the people in Chamberlain insaner than most? Except Mitchell.

  24. (snarky comment warning) The reason why Chamberlain is “insaner” than most is because graduation ceremonies are not about students. The ceremony is a form of “show and tell” for the school to brag about the number of students who have successfully jumped through all the required hoops.

  25. Nick Nemec

    Joan Williams, I have to chuckle about your hippy chick dress being considered inappropriate under a graduation gown. I remember the 1970s well and apparently the school authorities preferred teenaged girls wearing mini skirts and showing a mile of shapely leg glimpsed through the slit in the gown rather than more modest attire.

  26. mike from iowa

    Of course they did,Nick. The 70s was before pacemakers and the old horndogs needed to keep their blood pressure up and their hearts racing.

  27. Porter Lansing

    Mr. Nemec,
    Your references to high school girls body parts is disgusting and demeaning. A 57 year old man exhibiting this character flaw is disrespectful to young women and just plain creepy. Do you choose to be known as “The Creep, Nemec”? No wonder you only got 33% of the vote.

  28. Mike makes me think of a fair question: can students sell the rights to advertise on the top of their caps (even the Keystone XL)? How about patches on the gowns (like Nascar)?

  29. Mike, that is a good question. To expand on that, could businesses buy advertisement on high school football helmets? Or, how about on the shirt of the junior high school basketball team?

  30. Douglas Wiken

    This may not make much sense to some, but seems to me that the students ought to show respect to all their fellows and follow the rules. It is probably less than one hour of intolerable sameness.

  31. Deb Geelsdottir

    As another hippy, I brought a comic book to graduation from NSC. I think it was Calvin and Hobbes, or maybe Broomhilda. At any rate, I still have no idea who the speaker was because I was sharing funnies with my neighbors. It made my monstrous hangover more tolerable. No headgear was decorated.

    On the other hand, when it came to my masters degree ceremony, I brought no books. One of my classmates brought marbles which we held in our right hand. We took the degree certificate in the left hand, and when we shook right with the seminary president, we slipped him the marble, which he uniformly dropped. It echoed loudly as it bounced across the marble stage. Not very pious, but we were like that. BTW, I remember that speaker and she was very good. No decorated clothing there either. It was all rented, including the hoods.

    Last off all, Let Them Decorate! (As long as it’s not obscene or mean.)

  32. Deb Geelsdottir

    What is wrong with the Chamberlain school board and administration? They remind me of an abusive, controlling spouse. They’re seriously messed up.

  33. No long dresses? What an odd rule, Joan! A school was actually mandating that young ladies show more skin rather than less?

  34. Porter, I assume you are seconding Nick’s criticism of those ogling administrators and not really imputing to Nick those same motivations.

    O! You bring an interesting policy question. I’d be as inclined to ban such sponsored decoration as I would the obscenity and meanness Deb mentions. I can understand the Chamberlain school board’s response as a way of avoiding any such interesting policy questions: have things one way, make no exceptions, end of discussion.

  35. Mary Jo Nemec

    Mr. Lansing, your remark is asinine. I hope this puts you in your place.

  36. Nick Nemec

    Porter Lansing, I’m only 56, and at the time of Joan Williams’ 1971 graduation I was 13.

  37. The Chamberlain school board members’ and principal’s heads will explode when Indian graduates don native garb for the graduation ceremony and forego the cap and gown white-guys cultural garb. Note how “adult-like” the staff and faculty treated the graduate.

  38. Nick Nemec

    Now I ponder the inherent sexism in the 1970s, I’m guessing the boys in Joan Williams’ class were not required to show bare legs sticking out beneath their graduation gowns. Would Joan have been allowed to wear pants or were those reserved for the boys?

  39. Porter Lansing

    “teenaged girls wearing mini skirts and showing a mile of shapely leg glimpsed through the slit in the gown …” Would a Sodak school teacher be able to say this in print as a description of their school’s graduation ceremony without a reprimand? Mr. Heidelberger, I ask your expert opinion. Should a politician putting the “D” behind his name say it in print? Could a Marine officer say it in print with impunity and no risk of dressing down? By inventing that someone else said it but it’s really from your own words … does that shift the responsibility. Everyone, what say you?

  40. Bill Fleming

    Porter, you need to let go of that image. Nick mentioned it in passing. You appear to have attached yourself to it.

  41. Bill Fleming

    Two monks were traveling together, an older monk and a younger monk. They noticed a young woman at the edge of a stream, afraid to cross. The older monk picked her up, carried her across the stream and put her down safely on the other side. The younger monk was astonished, but he didn’t say anything until their journey was over. “Why did you carry that woman across the stream? Monks aren’t supposed to touch any member of the opposite sex.” said the younger monk. The older monk replied “I left her at the edge of the river, are you still carrying her?”

  42. Dang. Porter was serious.

    Let’s not get distracted here. Nick was pretty clearly phrasing the situation the way the people he was clearly criticizing were thinking of it. He was exposing their biases, not his own.

    Nick remains among my top choices to run against Kristi Noem for US House in 2016 or governor in 2018. His specific comment in question here should and will have zero impact on his political credibility. His general body of commentary on this blog boost his political credibility.

    And if he ran against Chamberlain’s superintendent for high office, he’d cream her.

  43. Nick Nemec

    Porter is apparently a literalist and has difficulty comprehending sarcasm and irony.

    In Joan’s comment we learned long dresses violated the 1971 dress code, If memory serves me right girls of that era when wearing dresses wore mini-skirts or longer hippy chick dresses. Since long dresses were not allowed at Joan’s graduation I’ll repeat my question, would slacks on the girls have violated the 1971 graduation dress code? The options are narrowing rapidly, remember 1971 was an era of misogyny and discrimination against women, before girls were even allowed to play basketball in South Dakota.

    I have no idea who you are Porter, or even if that’s your real name, so I also don’t know how much actual Marine Corps experience you have, but I would ask that you not attempt to rub my honorable service to our country in my face.

  44. Porter is as real as you and I, Nick. He’s generally an ally of the blog. He may just be suffering from the same malady that occasionally afflicts me in missing the full tone of a comment. Again, let’s not get distracted.

  45. Roger Cornelius

    I’ve never been one for pomp and circumstance of any kind, at my own high school in the 60’s, I couldn’t wait to get off the stage and end that mind numbing hour. The Vietnam War was raging and social fights of all sorts were rising to the surface, I couldn’t wait to get out and fight for my beliefs.

    I’m not a historian of graduation ceremonies, but I would bet that they have evolved from weird ritualistic ceremonies to what they are today.

  46. Roger Cornelius

    It doesn’t appear to me that Nick said anything off color in referring to the leg thing or that he is some sort of pervert, he simply reported a style of graduation garb at the time he graduated.
    I would like to hear from women on the blog that think Nick said something offensive about them.

  47. mike from iowa

    Pre Jimmy Carter’s lust in his heart comments that weren’t disrespectful at all,but you know who made a big deal out of them. Carter even interviewed with Playboy. Wingnuts couldn’t spell Playboy.

    I graduated in 1971 and girls in high school then had to wear skirts or culottes,no shorts,no sandals,no flip flops,no high heels and the only girl who got away with wearing hot pants was the Super’s daughter. Girls had to wear stoppen ze floppens, no tank tops,no bare midriffs,no boob tubes,nothing to distract us hormonally infused gentlemen. It was a man’s world back then.

  48. Roger & Nick,

    I don’t see where Nick posted anything that could be taken as offensive. It looked like Porter read into something that wasn’t there and then went for the jugular which seemed extreme and totally uncalled for. Nick has made consistent, reasonable and quality contributions to this blog and I appreciate his military service and what he and his family have given to the state Democratic Party.

  49. Nick Nemec is a good friend of mine and trust me, he’s not a perv, as Mr. Lansing accuses him of being. Let it go, Porter. Nick was making a point, which you obviously missed and then hung onto it way past the point of the end of the rope. Nick served honorably in the USMC, and has served the SDDP the same way. He’s to be lauded for his service. At least he ran a campaign. I don’t recall a “Porter Lansing” being on a ballot, ever.

  50. The 70s were the 70s. You go, Roger. Class of ’75 here, missed Vietnam by a whisker. And yes, in retrospect sexism was rampant. Simply review 70s era films and contemporary news.

  51. Donald Pay

    School dress codes are interesting issues for school boards. You can’t get students to take much interest in the actual governance of the institution they spend most of their time in, but start tinkering with the dress code and you’ll hear from the peanut gallery.

    My daughter laughed at me when I asked her whether the district should ban spaghetti straps. “Jesus, Daddy,” she said to start out. Then in her incensed and snotty voice, “So, what width qualifies as spaghetti? Better figure that out, because some kid is going to deny that the straps are spaghetti. They’ll say they are some other food. Doesn’t the school board have better things to discuss, like actual, you know, EDUCATION ISSUES.” She did see the point of banning gang insignia and hateful logos, but she didn’t see the point of banning spaghetti straps.

  52. Deb Geelsdottir

    Mike, we are the same age, and those were the dress code rules in Miller, SD too. There was a boy in my class who frequently wore terribly, painfully tight white jeans. Nothing, not one tiny bit of his anatomy, was left to the imagination. But, since he was a boy – no problem.

    When I began at NSC that fall, freshmen women had a 10:00 pm curfew Sunday-Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. The boys? No curfew any night.

    All that sexist crapola really ticked me off!

    I don’t have any problem with the leg and gown slit comment. It sounded to me like a simple observation.

  53. Donald brings up a point I encounter in the classroom all the time. Kids with no interest in debate or civics or school governance become remarkable literalists and litigators when we mess with the dress code or their other desires. Managing a classroom becomes a balance between making clear, objective rules and establishing one’s authority as the grown-up in the room to deal with disruptive behaviors on a case-by-case, “know it when I see it” basis. I don’t want to have to lay a ruler on your daughter’s shoulder to determine whether her strap is spaghetti or fettucini. I don’t want to measure just how many inches of her thigh peek below her hem. I don’t want to dedicate hours to crafting or enforcing a dress code, or potty break rules, or seating charts.

    But once we have a written policy, that’s the game we play, and if the school misapplies it, as they appear here to be in withholding transcripts after not carrying out the proper punishment, then kids are entitled to buck.

  54. The lawsuit awaiting filing against the Chamberlain school board, superintendent, and principal:

  55. Porter Lansing

    In Recent Student Protest News Across USA ~ HUNDREDS RALLY TO SUPPORT TEACHERS – Attendees at the “Rally to Take Back Our Schools” filled the hillside around the amphitheater at Clement Park in South Jeffco, and JCEA spokespeople estimated that between 1,000 and 2,500 people attended. A cloudburst dampened the event, but most stuck it out, huddling under umbrellas and intermittently chanting such slogans as “Stand up for kids!”
    Recent Chatfield High School graduate and student organizer Ashlyn Maher, one of the event’s speakers, said she was “disgusted” with recent decisions by the school board majority related to teacher pay. “I want (the district) to have teachers who know what they’re doing …,” Maher said. “If we don’t pay our teachers what they deserve … they will have no other choice but to leave. … Stand with me, fight with me and take back our schools with me.”