Hi. Barb here.
I graduated from a small private school with about 100 other sweaty teenagers. The tradition at my school was boys graduated in suits, while girls wore white dresses. But in my class in 1971, there was a major feminist uprising about this blatant display of gender roles. There were also strong objections to the expense involved, because while it was a private school, plenty of parents were making major sacrifices for their kids to be there. It was assumed the boys would wear the suits again–but the white dresses?
So we, the class of ’71, graduated in caps and gowns, both boys and girls. By the next year, the brouhaha was over, and the boys graduated in suits and the girls in white dresses, and have from that day to this, according to the very specific dress requirements posted here for the class of 2016.
I was reminded of this when I attended my niece’s graduation from Boothbay Harbor High School last Friday. The graduation itself was lovely. The ceremony focused rightly on the students. All three speakers were students, so there were no politicians or other eminence grises bloviating. Even the superintendent kept her remarks short and to the point. With 49 kids, there was time for every name to be called, and for all the kids to receive their due as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. They wore traditional caps and gowns, a lovely shade of blue.
Then, at 7:30 pm, we reported back to the high school gym for the “grand march.” First the graduates’ parents entered the gym, as couples, dressed up and looking proud. Then the graduates entered, two-by-two, a boy and a girl. The boys were dressed in white dinner jackets and the girls in long white dresses. Each girl carried two red-and-white bouquets.
They proceeded to move around the gym in configurations that felt like a cross between high school band formations and a Virginia reel. It was stately and beautiful, and aside from an unfortunate choice of a John Philip Sousa number that somehow reminded every spectator in my area of the marching band scene in Animal House, sending giggles down the row, it was lovely.
When all the marching was done, the group turned to each of the four walls of the gym for photos, and then the kids presented each of their moms with a bouquet. The girls danced with their dads and the boys danced with their moms, and it was over.
And I felt conflicted. On the one hand, it was so old-fashioned and traditional, a link to the past. But on the other, it was clear when the bouquet-presenting and dancing occurred that some kids were coping with having two complete sets of parents present, while others had barely been able to scrape up one set. Still, I imagined the grown-ups working together selflessly to acknowledge a milestone day for their children, and the kids getting to share a special moment with an uncle or grandparent or fondly-remembered babysitter, if a parent wasn’t a part of their lives.
I was even more uncomfortable that the one gender-nonconforming kid I’d spotted at graduation wasn’t present. Had that kid truly not wanted to participate, or were the expectations for dress and gender role just too off-putting? And those white dresses brought back waves of ambivalence. Hadn’t I fought this fight 45 years ago?
We were told several times that Boothbay is the last high school in Maine to do a grand march at graduation. A little Googling tells me that the Vinylhaven School also does one, though the girls appear to be be nicely dressed, in a color of their choosing.
I walked away impressed by the grandeur and the tradition, but disturbed by the embedded assumptions about kids and families.
Readers: What do you think? Grand March–lovely tradition or relic of a bygone era best forgotten?