By KIM MOSEMAN
SGA has just announced that for the first time in SU history graduates will be allowed to decorate and wear their graduation caps during the May 23 and May 24 commencement ceremonies.
Provost Karen Olmstead made the formal announcement on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the SGA Forum.
Donovan Mack, SGA director of diversity and inclusion, and Savrae Garnett, the SGA graduate assistant who will be graduating this May, led the initiative for students to be permitted to do this.
“I’ve seen a lot of people will buy a black cap on Amazon, decorate that, wear it for pictures around campus, not wear it to the actually ceremony and then put it back on after the ceremony,” Mack said.
When Mack told Olmstead about this, she was not happy to hear that. The administration now wants students to wear these caps during the actual ceremony.
“This is [the student’s] final step at Salisbury and they want their stories to be told while they get their degrees,” Mack said.
In September, Mack and Garnett drafted a list of rules for a guide to propose to the administration. Mack even attended his first college commencement ceremony this past graduation in December.
After multiple meetings that both Mack and Garnett attended, comprises were reached and rules were finalized.
“The administration was very open because this is something our generation really values,” Garnett said. “They would have needed a really good reason not to let us.”
The administration allowed SGA take the lead with this initiative. Members of SGA will even act as marshals during the ceremonies as a way to help monitor the caps and ensure students are not breaking the cap decorating guidelines.
Both the administration and SGA felt a peer-to-peer conversation would be most effective when inspecting the caps before the students walk across the stage.
If a cap is found to be inappropriate, student marshals will ask the offending student to remove their cap. Extra plain black caps will be available if this situation does occur during the ceremonies, but SGA hopes that students will take part in self-policing when on the stage.
“It’s better to have it student to student so it’s not like your parents yelling at you,” Mack said. “We’re just trying to be realist and respectful. You can’t have a 10 foot Statue of Liberty on your cap and expect to be able to walk out on the stage.”
The official rules are as followed:
- Only the flat top of the SU-issued black cap may be decorated.
- Decorations may not hang off of the cap.
- Large 3-D designs are prohibited.
- Graduation caps must not have any advertisements, symbols, words or slogans conveying messages inappropriate at a dignified commencement ceremony.
- Caps must not threaten the safety of others or use any hate speech of any kind.
- Caps must be consistent with the code of conduct for Salisbury University.
- Obscene, profane or vulgar language is expressly prohibited.
- Words or items diminishing or slandering toward any individual or institution, the University, any faculty or staff member, and/or any student is prohibited on graduation caps.
- The academic gown and hood cannot be decorated.
Failure to adhere to these rules for graduation cap decoration and/or instructions from commencement event staff could result in a student’s removal from commencement exercises and may add a student conduct violation to the student’s record.
“Don’t do anything that would embarrass your mama,” Mack said
Since Garnett began working with SGA she says students always inquired semester after semester why decorated caps were not permitted.
“Schools do it all over the world and the country, why not little old Salisbury?” Garnett said.
Salisbury is the only university in Maryland with public federal funding and is the only school where caps and gowns are free to graduates. This will change starting next December.
SU students will be charged $45 for their caps, gowns and hoods starting in December. This fee alleviates some of the cost SU has to pay to rent out the Civic Center.
Current May graduates will not be charged this year because of the timing in which this initiative was passed. SU students will also be able to keep their caps, regardless of if they are decorated or not.
This is very much a test run for future graduations at SU. Some see this final walk across the stage as the closing door at this university before becoming officially becoming alumni.
“I think for this generation of college students, this is very important,” Garnett said. “A lot of students are first generation and are involved on campus. This is an opportunity to express that.”
Garnett received her undergraduate degree from Montclair State in New Jersey. She was permitted to decorate her cap at her commencement ceremony.
Garnett says she decorated her first cap with the Jamaican flag on it because her family is from the islands.
“I saw it as a way to express myself as a graduating student,” Garnett said. “I’m one of the first people in my family to graduate. It felt like people were walking with me.”
Hannah Taheri, communication arts major who is graduating in May, was prepared to decorate her own cap regardless of the previously set rules. She says she has been thinking of cap decoration ideas since before she was a senior.
“I’m ecstatic to be able to decorate our caps this year,” Hannah Taheri said. “We’ve worked extremely hard to be able to wear our caps and gowns, and while we recognize the formality of the event, we should be allowed to express our excitement and creativity in any way we chose on our big day.”
It is expected that many students will take part in decorating their caps. The Civic Center is also expected to feature a sea of self-expression on May 23 and May 24.
Both SGA and the administration hope that the caps will be able to express what the graduates are most proud of, as well as evoke more school spirit and unite the campus. They recognize that students achieve more on this campus than just what their GPA indicates.
“This initiative shows the administration that commencement is not just an academic ceremony anymore,” Garnett said. “When you walk across the stage, your efforts should be recognized.”
Featured images taken by Kim Moseman.