Issaquah High School does and will continue to recognize students for a wide range of achievements. The graduation committee’s decision to have students stop wearing cords and stoles at the graduation ceremony itself is just one change to our 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. In addition, staff members write personal cards to students at each staff meeting, and much more. 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.

Like any decision a school makes, the feelings around adornment at graduation are divided. I’ve received both positive and negative feedback around this. 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. So, that’s exactly what we are going to do. This fall, members of the admin team, graduation committee and I are going to meet with small groups of seniors and ask them the guiding questions below and try to come up with an authentic and meaningful recognition program that honors students from all grade levels.  After these listening sessions, the graduation committee will reconvene and try our best to please as many people as possible without sacrificing some of our non-negotiables. Below you can find our guiding questions for the small groups, the challenges we saw last year, and the non-negotiables the committee has. 

Guiding questions

  • What do you think are the most important things that the school should formally recognize?
  • How do you most authentically feel recognized?
  • 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?

Challenges we encountered:

  • Students dropping AP courses to inflate their senior S1 GPA in order to improve their chances of earning a specific cord/stole
  • Students/parents going back and asking teachers from 9th/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 us 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 advisor 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 we differentiate between what is appropriate for a cord vs. a stole vs. celebrating outside the graduation ceremony
  • 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

Non-negotiables of a recognition program

  • We want a recognition program that recognizes students in a variety of accomplishments
  • We want a recognition program that doesn’t have financial barriers to students who have earned any honors (if cords/stoles are purchasable we need funds available to provide them to all)
  • We want a recognition program that is manageable by staff. May/June is a time that staff are incredibly busy doing things like completing staff evaluations, hiring so we can hire the best in order to provide the highest quality education to our students, and building a master schedule that allows the highest percentage of students to get classes that both meet graduation requirements but also match students’ interest.
  • We want 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 school is lucky to have thousands of incredible students who do incredible things during their time with us and are worth celebrating. I look forward to talking with seniors and working through this as a community.

Andrea McCormick