Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Students protest the passing of a tradition — special graduation robes for top achievers

Honor students sat in the front, in white robes, at Leto High School's graduation in 2012. Others wore red. Seniors have been been told the Class of 2018 will graduate in a single color. [OCTAVIO JONES, Times]

Honor students sat in the front, in white robes, at Leto High School's graduation in 2012. Others wore red. Seniors have been been told the Class of 2018 will graduate in a single color. [OCTAVIO JONES, Times]

TAMPA — Abel Urdaneta has taken Advanced Placement and college courses throughout his career at Leto High school. He has a weighted grade point average of 6.8, he said, but "I'm sure it will go up."

He works at McDonald's 20 to 25 hours a week. He plans to be an aerospace engineer.

Now add activist to his resume.

After hearing Leto would abandon a tradition of graduating its top students in white robes, a "heartbroken" Urdaneta launched an online petition drive to reinstate the privilege.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

"We have worked hard every single day so that we could graduate with honors and be celebrated on the day we walk across the stage," he wrote.

"For some of us, it has been the motivation for us to continue to apply ourselves in our academics."

Few rituals are as steeped in tradition as graduation, and controversies such as the one at Leto are more common than many people think.

In some communities outside Florida, school leaders concerned about transgender rights have ended a longtime practice of using one color robe for male students and a contrasting color for female students. Those moves invariably generate backlash and debate.

In Hillsborough County, the more common practice is to allow students with grade point averages above 4.0 to march in white.

Supporters consider it an earned reward. Detractors say it stigmatizes struggling students.

Wharton High principal Brad Woods said in 2013 that his students looked "like two different graduating classes" when some wore navy and others wore white. They now all wear navy.

Urdaneta said he learned of the change at Leto by questioning administrators about rumors. He said he did not hear the automated phone recording to parents.

"They want to be focused on equity at the school,'' said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja. "On being a Falcon family.''

Gaither High students, who used to use white honor robes as well, were hit with similar news this year. According to the student newspaper Pony Express, reactions were mixed.

"The majority of us feel very betrayed and upset by this decision, and feel as if our hard work isn't being properly recognized," senior Jill Dowden told the newspaper.

And they aren't being quiet.

"I don't step on Gaither's campus without hearing about the robe change,'' said School Board chairwoman Cindy Stuart, who has a daughter at the school.

Stuart said she has heard about lawyers getting involved, but did not have specifics.

Arja, after speaking with the Leto principal, said the school has no intention of slighting its top students.

Honor graduates will be called up first in the procession, she said. Their names will be listed differently in the program. They'll have a special breakfast. Seniors will be polled on what color the whole group should wear.

READ THE FULL LETO MESSAGE HERE:

And class leaders will design a stole that the top students can wear over their gowns. But Urdaneta wonders, instead of the special stole, why not just keep the white robes?

He understands the arguments about sensitivity and elitism, but still thinks some students deserve recognition. He knows one student who immigrated from Cuba at age 17, speaking little English. "And she managed to get a 4.0," he said.

While Arja said the Leto principal has received only one parent complaint, School Board member Susan Valdes — a Leto graduate — said she's received a lot more.

Valdes suggested that, rather than springing such a change on students in their senior year, schools might introduce it when they are freshman.

Urdaneta, meanwhile, has more than 1,000 signatures on his petition. And he has the support of Zakiya Grier, president of the Lennard High senior class.

Like Urdaneta, Grier has spent her high school years working and taking college-level classes to get ahead. She also runs track.

Until now, all Lennard graduates have marched in burnt orange gowns. Grier hopes to introduce white honor robes.

"We both want recognition for all the hard work that we've done," she said.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol

Students protest the passing of a tradition — special graduation robes for top achievers 09/07/17 [Last modified: Thursday, September 7, 2017 11:45am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Up to 35 hurt in blasts, fire at New York cosmetics factory

    Accidents

    NEW WINDSOR, N.Y. — Two explosions and a fire at a New York cosmetics factory recently cited for safety violations left 30 to 35 people injured, including seven firefighters caught in the second blast, authorities said Monday.

    Firefighters work the scene Monday of a fire at the Verla International cosmetics factory in New Windsor, N.Y. Two explosions and a fire left dozens injured, including seven firefighters.
  2. Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will 'get it in the neck.'

    National

    TAMPA — A week ahead of the expected vote on a controversial tax reform bill, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited Tampa to deliver a message to small businesses: This bill will hurt you.

    Nelson
  3. Bucs journal: Dirk Koetter says Doug Martin's not at fault for struggling running game

    Bucs

    TAMPA — RB Doug Martin had just 38 yards on 19 carries in Sunday's win against the Dolphins, but coach Dirk Koetter said his team's struggles running the ball shouldn't go squarely on his running back.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) warms up before the start of an NFL game between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017.
  4. NTSB report details steep turns and dives preceding Roy Halladay's fatal crash

    Accidents

    Before he crashed, Roy Halladay flew within 75 feet of houses and skimmed the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a report published Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

    After his Major League career, Roy Halladay took to coaching. Here Halladay, center, the pitching coach for Calvary Christian, joins Graham Hoffman (8), left, and Nolan Hudi (14), right, moments after winning a region baseball semifinal game in May against Trinity Prep in Clearwater. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]

  5. Debunking some theories about why the Bucs are keeping Jameis Winston on the shelf

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The Bucs are sticking with Ryan Two and Oh Fitzpatrick at quarterback for Sunday's game in Atlanta.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is seen on the bench during the first half of an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times