Caps and gowns voted back for 2016 commencement

by Emily Kauffman – Horizon Features Editor & Kendra Burkey – Horizon Advisor

For the first time since 1971, Hesston College graduates will wear caps and gowns at commencement.

That’s the message students received yesterday from Justin Heinzekehr, Hesston College Registrar, who made clear that all students who want to participate in commencement will be expected to wear caps and gowns. 

Oak Hall Cap & Gown are the manufacturers of the regalia Hesston will stock for Commencement 2016. Source:
Oak Hall Cap & Gown are the manufacturers of the regalia Hesston will stock for Commencement 2016. Source:

“We believe this change will help us mark the significance of your graduation from Hesston College and make commencement an even more festive occasion for students, families and the college community,” he said.

But it wasn’t administrators who brought the change. A few weeks ago, nearly 60 percent of Hesston College students voted to bring back caps and gowns for the May 8 ceremony.

Many of those students were nursing majors, the driving force behind the survey. They were among the first to express their desire to wear regalia.

Bonnie Sowers, Director of Nursing, is sympathetic to those voices, especially those with who haven’t experienced a traditional graduation: First generation college students and those who earned GEDs instead of graduating high school.

“These students and their families are excited to experience the traditional commencement ceremony that is celebrated by nearly all two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities across the nation,” she said. “They are proud of their academic achievements and want to outwardly display this on commencement weekend.”

The bookstore will carry the $24 cap and gown sets, which are made from recycled material.

“We will let you know as soon as the bookstore has regalia in stock,” said Heinzekehr.

The decision to discontinue the wearing of caps and gowns in the early 70s was also student-driven. That’s something Brent Yoder, Vice President of Academics takes seriously.

“We continue to think that it should be a student decision to continue or discontinue that tradition, since the celebration is for the graduates,” Yoder said in an email to employees.  

Yoder said buzz surrounding caps and gowns began again a few years ago, but a 2013 poll among students didn’t show consensus to reverse the 40-year tradition. The addition of the new Bachelor’s degree in nursing initiated a new round of questions.

“We knew that we would eventually need to bring back caps and gowns or hold separate commencement ceremonies for associate’s and bachelor’s graduates,” Yoder said. “The latter was not our preference, since we want to celebrate the work of the entire student body and not create division between nursing and all other programs.”

Last month’s poll found that 59 percent of students were in favor of the decision; 23 percent had no opinion; 18 percent were not in favor. Three-fourths of the student body responded to the poll, which originally estimated a $40 price tag on the caps and gowns.

“This was not an easy decision,” said Yoder, “but we are attempting to give our students the experience that the majority are requesting.”

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