GORHAM — One thing that always becomes apparent to high school students as they navigate their way through their four-year experience is that change is frequent and ongoing, but is often hard to accept.

This idea was exemplified when the Civil Rights Team of Gorham High School was challenged during the 2014-2015 school year with the topic of graduation gowns – and since it’s the end of the school year, this is a good subject to reflect upon.

The topic came up at a team meeting during the 2014-2015 school year. In previous years, when caps and gowns were ordered for graduation ceremonies, there were two options listed on the ordering slip: male or female. Students were assigned a white gown if they checked female, or a maroon gown if they were male.

This proved to be problematic on two fronts. The first one was that if a person was anywhere on the gender spectrum between the two binary genders of male and female, or was someone conflicted about their gender identity, they were unsure of which to choose. The second issue was that we, the Civil Rights Team, felt it was unnecessary to have a gender-divided graduation in the first place.

The first course of action was clear: Bring up the issue directly to Gorham High School’s School Council. The School Council is a team of 10 people, including staff and students, who work collectively to improve different aspects of Gorham High School.

The GHS Civil Rights Team adviser, Rachael Grady, attended a School Council meeting along with a handful of Civil Rights Team members. The purpose was to present our proposal and explain our team’s reasoning and solution, which was to make every graduation gown the same color – black – rather than have students’ gender determine whether they would wear maroon or white.

The Civil Rights Team presented a compelling case that one color would reflect the unity of the graduating class as students. The School Council overwhelmingly heard our issue and agreed with our stance. However, to get full understanding of the issue, the Civil Rights Team along with the School Council sought further feedback about gown colors.

The first group to give feedback was the senior class. A slideshow was shown to the class explaining the issue and how it was proposed to be solved. Then an anonymous survey was sent out to the senior class, asking for their opinions on a one-color gown graduation.

After the answers to this survey were collected, two open mic opportunities were provided, where members of the senior class could voice their opinions to members of the administration.

The opinions expressed in the survey and in the open mic opportunities were overwhelmingly against the idea of a singular-color gown. The main reason behind this rejection was that the colors of the gowns represented Gorham High School as a whole, because the official school colors are maroon, white and black.

With this reasoning behind it, an alternative proposal was created by the members of the senior class. Rather than having gowns in one of two colors, a third color, black, would be introduced. The gowns would not be assigned via gender identity or expression; instead, students had the ability to choose which color they wanted to wear. This proposal was passed by the School Council and affected the 2015 graduating class.

The 2015 graduation was a raging success. Each color gown was amply represented among the graduates, with fewer of those participating adhering to previously gender-specific colors. Students fully enjoyed the ability to choose the color that they preferred the most.

The change from two colors to three colors affected the entire senior class (and upcoming classes), instead of solely a smaller group of people. The larger issue behind the gender issue was that of personal choice. Now that graduating students have the option to choose any of three colors, they are more able to express themselves. Students are no longer kept to gender-based division and restrictions.

This experience proved to be a true collaboration among students, faculty and Gorham High School’s Civil Rights Team. Because of the successful outcome, Gorham High School’s Civil Rights Team was invited to present the keynote speech at the University of Southern Maine’s Creating Welcoming Schools Conference of 2015. The Gorham Civil Rights Team looks forward to completing projects similar to this in caliber in the future.