The Two Sides to Graduation Cords

As high school winds down for seniors, some question the legitimacy behind not being able to wear cords for specific classes or clubs



While some students have have over four cords at graduation, others who have been heavily involved in academics can have one

Delaney Cram, Assistant Editor

  Every year, the month of May seems to have an extra layer of energy in the atmosphere, as though a glass is fizzing over or a taut string is thrumming in anticipation. The sharp pull of backpack straps onto bare shoulders is suddenly too much, the daily smaller assignments and the endless exams and projects seem to all totter precariously atop the final nerve not worn down after 13 years of effort and determination to achieve this moment. With seniors’ last day on May 26 and the graduation ceremony on June 4, the end is almost near enough to reach out and touch. But a diploma isn’t the only thing recognizing many seniors for their achievements throughout their school careers. On May 23, exceptional members of the senior class will earn various awards honoring their achievements, the most notable of which are the traditional cords worn around shoulders at graduation. 

  “When people get to the end of senior year, there’s a lot of different recognitions, you know there’s academic pins and letters, there’s departmental hall of fame awards, there’s scholarships and other competitive things, and then there’s cords,” Principal Joe Esper said. “There’s a couple different kinds. The ones in board policy are the Magna and Summa Cum Laude cords which are for 3.5 and above GPA. Those are the cumulative cords. The rest of the cords we categorized in 2016, so cords that are worn for the official ceremonies have to either fall under a nationally recognized academic group [or service].” 

  After four years of striving for excellence, a significant group of seniors will be wearing cords distinguishing them for their accomplishments during honors convocation and graduation.

  “I am receiving the French Honors Society cord, Art Honors Society and [a cord for] GPA,” senior Catherine Brown said. 

  But, as graduation looms closer, many seniors are being confronted with the reality that some of their earned cords will not be permitted during their ceremonies. 

  “The big thing that changed with the 2016 review was not having other cords that didn’t come through the school worn at graduation. That fell more under the category that we called participation,” Esper said. “Kind of the issue that was happening was there were cords coming from lots of different things and parents were really upset at graduation that their son or daughter’s cord wasn’t listed in the program. But, it wasn’t something that came from the school. So, that was when we went to it has to be like these academic ones that have gone through and been approved and those are the ones we’re gonna list. Some people are also getting cords from groups and they were the same colors as other cords that were listed, but it’s not what they had earned.” 

  In an effort to dispel confusion, TCAPS limited the cords that can be worn to just the Summa Cum Laude and Magna Cum Laude cords, any cord from a National Honor Society, or a cord recognizing community service.

  “I think the cord thing has in the last 15 years, nationally has been kind of a trend of like that’s the only way people default to for certain recognitions,” Esper said. “I even see some things on social media where people are like, ‘oh, if you sign up for this group, you can get a cord. If you do this, you can get a cord.’ There’s lots of other ways to recognize people too. You can get actual awards, certificates, pins, program listings, those kind of things.”

  Though the reasons behind banning certain cords are legitimate, some students have disagreed with the decision.

  “I think it’s kind of dumb because I know it’s about academic awards and everything, but choir’s also academic, there’s a lot of time and effort that gets put into it and it helps you with different strategies like timing and just overall reading,” Brown said. “I’ve been in it for four years, so I’ve put a lot of effort into everything and I think it’s, another thing, is that it’s a class. It’s not like, oh, I decided to do a club or something, it’s like an actual academic class that I chose to take.”

  Like several other students who have dedicated their high school careers to the performing arts, Brown will not be permitted to wear her cord recognizing that during graduation. To not have these accomplishments be acknowledged is invalidating for some. 

  “Choir’s been my passion since I was little, and it’s always helped me if I was stressed or depressed or something,” Brown said. “It’s always made me a little bit happier.”

  Though the system isn’t perfect, the school board felt that regulation in relation to cords was necessary to remain fair. 

  “Every type of recognition that we give, there’s somebody who just misses qualifying for it or doesn’t fall under that, so sometimes we hear from a handful of those people,” Esper said. “But, by the nature of recognition is noting that someone did something distinctive, something different than everybody else. It’s hard for that to be distinctive, and also be something where everyone can pick what they’re recognized for. You have to boil it down to some black-and-white standards, so it’s consistent from year to year.” 

  The school still attempts to make sure that students receive the recognition that they deserve, even if not everything can be recognized. 

  “That’s part of the reason in our TCAPS academic awards, we have both the Magna and Summa cord, which is all four years pushed together and averaged, and then the gold, silver, bronze pins that are more for individual years,” Esper said. “So, someone who had a great senior year, but their freshman year was really low, so it averages out that they don’t get the cord, they’ll still get a pin their senior year, so they’ll still get some kind of recognition if their senior year was academically really strong.”

  Cords aren’t the only things restricted on graduation day that have experienced opposition from the student body.

  “The one we hear more about than cords this time of year is decorating caps at graduation,” Esper said. “The one year we let people do it was 2020, when people didn’t get a real graduation, they had to walk through a gym and get their diploma one at a time. But then, you get this whole thing about like free speech. If you’re gonna let people decorate caps, you can’t put limits on it, but we have had that year like people offended about what that person put on this cap and this cap has some political connotation or whatever other thing. And then, of course, everybody throws their caps, and once 300 some caps get thrown, you’re probably not gonna find the one you came with, or at least not in the 90 seconds you have before you have to leave the auditorium.”

  Though TCAPS is adamant about graduation decor restrictions now and this doesn’t look likely to change soon, it isn’t guaranteed to remain a rule indefinitely. 

  “I would not be surprised if things looked different five years or 10 years from now than they do today,” Esper said. “It’s part of that democratic process and it has changed since TCAPS has been having graduations, both with two high schools and back when we were one big high school. So, in other times it tends to just come from if people come up with a new idea or a good idea and they take it to the board curriculum and the full board and then the principals look at it.”

  No matter if a senior is being recognized with a cord or other type of award or not, the fact that they made it to this moment in their lives is worthy of praise. 

  “I would just say for the seniors, I’m excited for them, and just to really look at this time as an opportunity,” Esper said. “School is what seniors have done most of the year, most of the day, for their whole part of their lives that they can remember up to this point. So, I think it’s scary for a good chunk of seniors because they feel like everything is ending. But, I really try to encourage them to flip that, that everything is opening up. The majority of your life is what happens after June 4, and they’re gonna leave with a high school diploma and go onto college or go onto training or go onto work, and have lots of options, so just getting excited about those and not feeling like there’s one right thing for them to do next because I think people worry about if they’re gonna pick the wrong thing or not. You’re gonna do a lot of different things in your lifetime, so just look at those opportunities, try what you think you want to do next, and if you figure out in a few years it’s not what you want to do, people can always adjust.”

  The senior class has come a long way, through a lot of adversity, and now it’s their turn to take the reins on their lives, as a new class rises up to fill their shoes.

  “I’d say stick with what makes you happy,” Brown said. “Because, even if it seems like it’s not worth it, like the colleges or something won’t like it, if it’s something that’s unique to you and shows your values, they’ll see it the way you see it.”