Should 8th-graders wear a cap and gown? Districts do graduation differently

  • Dressed in red gowns, students who completed eighth grade at MacArthur Middle School in Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 participate last year in a traditional promotion ceremony at Wheeling High School. The school gives a certificate of promotion to each student who completes eighth grade and requires students to wear gowns, but not caps, for the celebration.

    Dressed in red gowns, students who completed eighth grade at MacArthur Middle School in Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 participate last year in a traditional promotion ceremony at Wheeling High School. The school gives a certificate of promotion to each student who completes eighth grade and requires students to wear gowns, but not caps, for the celebration. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Elementary District 23, 2018

  • Lilly Hanslik was one of three students to speak during the Eighth-Grade Celebration at Washington Junior High in Naperville Unit District 203, where "moving-on" ceremonies take place during the school day, without students wearing caps or gowns, instead of true graduation ceremonies.

      Lilly Hanslik was one of three students to speak during the Eighth-Grade Celebration at Washington Junior High in Naperville Unit District 203, where "moving-on" ceremonies take place during the school day, without students wearing caps or gowns, instead of true graduation ceremonies. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance during the Eighth-Grade Celebration at Washington Junior High in Naperville, which serves as the school's graduation-type ceremony. Students are asked to wear nice clothing for the event but do not dress in caps or gowns.

      Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance during the Eighth-Grade Celebration at Washington Junior High in Naperville, which serves as the school's graduation-type ceremony. Students are asked to wear nice clothing for the event but do not dress in caps or gowns. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Eighth-graders in Valley View Unit District 365 in Bolingbrook wear gowns but no caps during their graduation ceremonies. Here, students line up to accept their certificates of promotion from Sarah DeDonato, principal of A. Vito Martinez Middle School in Romeoville.

    Eighth-graders in Valley View Unit District 365 in Bolingbrook wear gowns but no caps during their graduation ceremonies. Here, students line up to accept their certificates of promotion from Sarah DeDonato, principal of A. Vito Martinez Middle School in Romeoville. Courtesy of Valley View Unit District 365

 
 
Posted6/5/2019 5:30 AM

How much is too much pomp and circumstance to mark the completion of eighth grade?

It's a question that divides parents and school districts across the region at the height of graduation season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Should students graduate in a full ceremony with caps and gowns? Eighth-graders in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 do, spokesman Adam Harris said.

Should they wrap up their eighth-grade year dressed in nice clothing for an awards assembly during school, maybe called a "moving-on" ceremony or an eighth-grade celebration? These are the practices in Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204.

Should there be no such thing as a graduation from eighth grade, saving the milestone moment for the end of high school, as it is in St. Charles Unit District 303?

Or should the occasion take on something of a middle ground, with a name like "promotion" or "commencement;" with gowns but no caps and with a certificate but no true degree or diploma? That's how Valley View Unit District 365 in Bolingbrook and Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 handle it.

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District 23 Superintendent Don Angelaccio says the practice comes down to tradition and to making students feel as if they are part of an ongoing practice. "Once a Marauder, always a Marauder," he says, referring to the mascot of the district's MacArthur Middle School.

Each year, dressed in red gowns -- sans caps -- and adorned with boutonnieres, MacArthur students completing their time in District 23 head to either Wheeling or John Hersey High School, since students split between the two attendance areas.

There, those who just finished eighth grade celebrate with an evening of performances by school musical groups; speeches by students, school and district leaders; and a reading of names as each incoming freshman receives a certificate of promotion. This year's ceremony was from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hersey.

"We want to acknowledge it and celebrate that achievement without making it more than it needs to be," Angelaccio said about the completion of eighth grade. "It's an acknowledgment of their time and effort and hard work and achievement, without it being so ostentatious that we think it's the most important achievement they're ever going to have in their life."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The ceremony is formal, to be respectful, but not endlessly long, to avoid blowing it out of proportion, Angelaccio said. How to achieve the proper balance is something administrators discuss and the community appreciates, he says.

But opinions on what is appropriate for eighth-grade recognition vary.

Susan Avery, whose daughter Jordan is completing eighth grade at Still Middle School in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, said the lack of a gown-wearing, formal ceremony seems disappointing and inappropriate, especially as nearby districts mark the occasion with students in gowns.

"My God, my daughter had a cap and gown to graduate from preschool," Avery said. "They're minimalizing graduating."

Yet others who responded to a post on a Naperville Moms Network Facebook page, where Avery mentioned her feeling that a gown-less graduation is "very disrespectful to the kids that have worked hard," said it's better to keep the eighth-grade occasion more subdued.

"Geneva (Unit District) 304 has an eighth-grade promotion ceremony; no cap and gown," Chrissy Swanson wrote in response to Avery's post. "It is nice to acknowledge the last few years without diminishing high school graduation."

That's how officials in Avery's daughter's District 204 feel as well, having switched years ago to celebration assemblies instead of true graduations for eighth-graders who are set to continue at one of three high schools.

"The thinking was that high school graduation is the goal and culminating activity," district spokeswoman Janet Buglio said.

Many school officials note there isn't a true graduation from eighth grade because there isn't a degree conferred and there isn't an option to drop out.

"Our graduations are not graduations, per se, in Naperville District 203; they are considered moving-on ceremonies," spokeswoman Sinikka Mondini said. "We do not do any gowns, they're held during the day, and each school in the district handles it differently."

At Washington Junior High in Naperville, the moving-on ceremony held last Thursday, called the Eighth-Grade Celebration, seemed to onlookers very similar to a graduation. Students marched to seats in front of a stage. The principal spoke. Honor students and award winners were recognized. Three students gave speeches. Then students took their turn on stage to receive a certificate and a gift.

Administrators say the key is to provide some form of recognition and to let parents decide how else to celebrate on their own.

"It's a nice way to culminate the year, and we try to do it in a respectful and reserved, a little bit more formal way, where the students all stand and sit together," Angelaccio said about District 23's promotion ceremonies. "Everyone comes all dolled up. It's a very nice event."

• Daily Herald staff writers Lauren Rohr and Christopher Placek contributed to this report.

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