Issaquah High School (IHS) graduation committee recently announced its proposed decision to remove class rank, honor stoles and cords for seniors graduating in 2020 and beyond.
The announcement was made public Aug. 5 via a school newsletter email.
At the end of May, IHS Principal Andrea McCormick sent out a message to students and families regarding the discussions and decisions around graduation honors and adornments. Graduation honors and adornments posed for removal include class rank, and the addition of honor stoles and cords for achievements related to GPA, participation in clubs and sports, and PTSA’s community service cord.
“Despite our best efforts to ensure that all students felt honored and recognized at graduation for their various achievements we came to realize that the addition of the various cords and stoles created added feelings of pressure and stress for our students, instead of feelings of celebration and pride,” the Issaquah High School graduation committee said in the email.
After much discussion and reflection, the graduation committee said it believes it cannot create a system that will allow the school to recognize all the achievements students have accomplished during their high school careers at graduation in “a way that is both equitable and manageable.”
“We believe that the focus at the graduation ceremony should be the achievement of all graduating seniors meeting the graduation requirements and celebrating that accomplishment together as a class, not on the individual accomplishments each student made during their journey,” the graduation committee said in the email.
Individual accomplishments, graduation honors and cords and stoles will no longer be offered or allowed at the graduation ceremony. Students will still be allowed and encouraged to decorate their caps to celebrate where they are heading following graduation, display their achievements, or express their individuality, the graduation committee said.
Four days after the graduation committee’s announcement, McCormick sent an email newsletter out to students and families to address concerns about a lack of recognition at graduation. She said the decision to have students stop wearing cords and stoles at the graduation ceremony itself is one change to the school’s larger recognition program.
“We have recognition in our written graduation program, we have school-wide, grade level, club specific and sports specific recognition ceremonies all year including one for seniors that is open to all who wish to attend,” McCormick said in the email. “This recent decision from the committee was a direct result of concerning things that were happening at our school around the adornment at this particular event. The committee of staff members who manage recognition and graduation shared some of their concerns to parents, students and staff to try to bring great minds together and craft a solution that everyone was happy with.”
McCormick said many students and families expressed their opposition with the decision. The opposing viewpoints were primarily centered around the idea that students worked hard to earn the individual honor adornments.
She said the school encountered several challenges with students and families trying to receive honor adornments dishonestly.
Some of the challenges included:
• Students dropping AP courses to inflate their senior GPA in order to improve their chances of earning a specific cord/stole
• Students/parents going back and asking teachers from ninth/10th grade year for grade changes for their lowest grades in order to inflate their GPA and thereby improve their chances of getting a certain cord/stole
• Parents calling in and asking to round grades because their children are experiencing mental health issues by feeling less valued or important than their peers having earned the cord/stole that’s not the highest one
• Parents/students verbally abusing the secretary that hands out the cords/stoles because their name was not on the list provided by a volunteer club adviser or because the student failed to sign up by the deadline
• Students purchasing cords/stoles from Amazon and wearing them, and other students feeling the school wasn’t doing enough to enforce “fake” Amazon cords/stoles in the tunnel at T-Mobile Park
• Students/parents wanting additional stoles/cores for additional achievements and not feeling cords are a sufficient way to honor every achievement and having no clear criteria to decide how to differentiate
• Students/parents requesting stoles/cords for family hardships because they feel graduating and demonstrating personal resiliency is as significant as a high GPA or participation in a club or sport
• Students/parents wanting cords for partial participation in a club/sport even though they did not complete the season for that sport or activity
Due to mixed feedback from students and families, McCormick said the school will take the decisions to the students.
“I find in these situations, it’s best to take the discussion to the students, whose voices are most important, and give them an opportunity to really digest the problem and recommend solutions,” she said in the statement.
This fall, members of the administration team, graduation committee and McCormick will meet with small groups of seniors and ask them guiding questions to try to come up with an authentic and meaningful recognition program that honors students from all grade levels.
The guiding questions include “What do you think are the most important things that the school should formally recognize,”“How do you most authentically feel recognized?” and “What specific suggestions do you have for the school to authentically recognize students for various achievements while addressing some of the concerns we faced last year?”
After the listening sessions, the graduation committee will reconvene and work to “please as many people as possible without sacrificing some of our non-negotiables,” according to McCormick.
The graduation committee has developed the following non-negotiables:
• A recognition program that recognizes students in a variety of accomplishments
• A recognition program that doesn’t have financial barriers to students who have earned any honors (if cords/stoles are purchasable, funds must be available to provide them to all)
• A recognition program that is manageable by staff. (May/June is a time that staff are busy doing things like completing staff evaluations, hiring, and building a master schedule, the school noted.)
• A recognition program that doesn’t create unhealthy levels of pressure or sends the message to students that their best effort was somehow not enough.
The graduation committee will form a final decision following the listening groups in the fall.