What’s behind graduation gown colors, anyway?

South Western students all wear black gowns at graduation, as seen in this 2011 Evening Sun file photo.

South Western students all wear black gowns at graduation, as seen in this 2011 Evening Sun file pho

A transgender student in Red Lion caught headlines recently when ACLU of Pennsylvania took up the issue of what color gown the student would wear at graduation, among other things.

Issak Wolfe wanted to wear a black gown, as boys do, not the gold gown that girls wear. And the district has said that’s OK (though it hasn’t agreed to some other requests).

So do all schools have male and female students wearing different colors at the ceremony? And why is that?

Districts around York County have different traditions when it comes to what students wear at graduation. And in many cases, the reason is just that – tradition – and little more.

Gown color came up recently in the Central York School District. A high school student approached the school board this spring, asking why gown colors were assigned by gender, according to district spokeswoman Julie Romig.

Spring Grove students vote each year on what colors they want to wear at graduation. (File photo)

Spring Grove students vote each year on what colors they want to wear at graduation. (File photo)

“After listening to the student and speaking with class officers, the administration offered the senior class the chance to vote to select their graduation gown colors,” she said in an email.

The majority voted to let students choose either orange or black gowns, and students returned slips to the office designating their choices, Romig said.

In the past, girls wore orange and boys wore black, a tradition that started in the last decade, she said. Before that, the seniors voted on class colors and those became the gown colors.

York Suburban has had students wear black gowns as long as anyone can remember, said Supt. Kate Orban. There might have been other colors in previous years, she said. (I found some photos of York Suburban grads in white gowns from a few years back.)

At Spring Grove Area High School, each senior class votes on what to do, said district spokeswoman Lisa Smith. This year, students voted to have everyone wear blue gowns. Some years, they’ve chosen to use blue and white.

Red Lion students wore black and gold gowns at graduation in 2012. (File photo)

Red Lion students wore black and gold gowns at graduation in 2012. (File photo)

Northeastern High School, by tradition, has girls wear orange gowns and boys wear black, spokeswoman Keri Straub said.

Walt Graves, principal at South Western High School, said students there all wear black robes.

“They’re all one class,” he said, so they all wear the same thing. It looks very dignified, he said.

But he was previously principal at Eastern York High School, he said, and he has some great photos of a tradition started there – spelling out the class year in gold gowns, with other students in blue.

Eastern Supt. Darla Pianowski said students pick out whichever color gown they want to wear and where they’d like to sit – but that goes hand in hand since they spell out the year.

“They do know where the seats are ahead of time so, in essence they are choosing the color gown and where they would like to sit,” she said in an email.

About Angie Mason

I'm the education reporter at the York Daily Record. Follow me on Twitter: @angiemason1
This entry was posted in Angie Mason, Central York School District, Eastern York School District, Northeastern School District, Red Lion Area School District, South Western School District, Spring Grove Area School District, York Suburban School District and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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