Students in Jackson County high schools can now decorate their mortarboards, within certain guidelines.


By Kelly Morgan

Though most people only see them for an hour before the graduates wildly toss them in the air, some Jackson County seniors spend days decorating their mortarboards, the square caps they don for graduation.

While graduation has been disrupted for this year’s high school seniors, they still have the choice to personalize the caps they will wear in August.

Until recently, seniors in the Jackson County Public School system were not allowed to decorate their mortarboards.

“Many seniors shared their concerns with me about their need to display culture, heritage and familial importance during graduation,” School Superintendent Kim Elliott said.

She requested that the Board of Education allow students to decorate their mortarboards, provided that the designs meet the JCPS policies on displays and expressions.

Now, students at all four high schools may personalize their mortarboards, as long as they submit their designs to be approved first by their principals and then by Elliot.

The guidelines say the design should have a connection to students’ ancestry, life, or future goals, and cannot create a disturbance.

“The ability for students to express themselves during this amazing rite of passage needs to be supported,” Smoky Mountain High School Principal Evelyn Graning said. “It gives them one more chance to express themselves.”

She has seen a variety of designs, including Native American bead work, shoutouts to parents, monograms and favorite cartoon characters.

Blue Ridge Early College Principal Tracie Metz said her students’ designs usually fall into two categories: what the student is doing after high school and what the student’s hobbies are.

“This is a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “We love giving students a chance to showcase themselves.”

“The main reason I’m decorating my hat is because it’s a new and different way to express myself while I’m graduating,” SMHS senior Scott Alligood said. “Instead of being one of hundreds of people that look the same in my class, I get to stand out. It’s a memory of my last year at SMHS that I get to carry with me for the rest of my life.”

His design will include music notes, which represent the impact band has had on his life, and a computer, which represents his plan to major in computer science and technology.

“I am decorating my hat because graduation is a milestone and decorating it represents my next steps forward in life,” SMHS senior Lindsey Stack said.

Her design will feature a DNA strand, as she plans to major in biology.

Jackson Community School Principal Angela Lunsford said JCS students typically do not decorate their mortarboards because they do not purchase their own caps and gowns; the school provides them.

“We want to keep graduation costs as low as possible,” Lunsford said. “We also buy tassels for our students, which they get to keep, and we print graduation invitations for them.”

If students want, they have the choice to buy a cap and decorate it, but Lunsford said no students have done this.

Morgan is a Sylva Herald intern.