Changing Traditions: Graduate Looks Back on Hockaday Commencement

Throughout my 14 years as a Hockadaisy, I had always dreamed of my graduation day. 

Flowers would line Commencement Terrace, my 120 sisters and I would sit with beautiful hats atop our heads, and confetti would float through the air. 

Finally, on May 14, 2022, Hockaday’s Class of 2022 received our diplomas.

It’s no secret that this year’s commencement came with controversy: For the second time in the school’s 109-year history, students could choose to wear a cap and gown instead of the traditional white dress and colored hat. 

Last year, this option was offered temporarily, but school leaders decided to make it permanent last fall. 

Although no student in my class elected the newer option, the decision still sparked concerns around the loss of tradition. 

Hockaday commencement and the iconic white dresses are century-spanning traditions, and fears arose that the day’s value would be diminished without class-wide unity.

However, I believe that the change actually brought our class together.

While the decision came this year, discussions around the dress began much earlier.

In 2015, a student-led petition for alternate graduation attire received more than 1,400 signatures.

A fact sheet presented to the Hockaday community reported that since 2015 around eight to 10 students annually have requested a different option for varying reasons, with religious considerations and body image topping the list. 

After two students were permitted to wear a cap and gown for commencement 2021, the school created an internal work group to research and develop a permanent solution. Eventually, the team decided that a second option was the best decision.

“Our goal is for every graduate to feel included, comfortable, and proud on her graduation day,” former Eugene McDermott Head of School Karen Warren Coleman said.

I agree with Dr. Coleman: In my time as a lifer at Hockaday, the message of community and sisterhood has been emphasized time and time again. On a day as important as commencement, ensuring the comfort of my fellow classmates is of utmost importance. 

Sidney Kronbach, another member of the class of 2022, worked with a few other students to develop a petition to advocate for the decision.

“For me, it was lovely to see the support that the petition got in our grade and beyond,” Kronbach said. “The most important thing to me and a major reason I support the decision is that while the single white dress is supposed to symbolize unity amongst the senior class, there is nothing unifying about someone feeling excluded.” 

My commencement experience would have made my 4-year-old self swoon: It was everything I had ever dreamed of, but I know discomfort with the white dress prevented many Hockaday students from feeling the same in years past. 

I am so glad that from now on, all Hockaday students are allowed a commencement where they feel equally celebrated.

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Madeline Stout

Maddie Stout, co-editor of her campus newspaper, will begin her senior year at The Hockaday School in August.

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