NEW TAMPA — No one had complained, said Wharton High School principal Brad Woods. He decided on his own to eliminate the white gowns that honor students wear at graduation.
Starting in spring, they'll don the blue gowns that everybody else wears.
But the move left some honor students feeling like the rug, or robe, had been pulled out from under them.
"Personally, it feels like a breach of contract,'' said Kyle Stanton, 17, who is set to graduate with honors.
Woods explained that the graduation ceremony looked strange with students wearing two different colors. Since more than 40 percent of Wharton students earned a 4.0 or higher grade-point average last school year, he said, the ceremony was a stark study in contrast.
"It looked like two different graduating classes,'' he said.
Noting that "we're not minimizing the accomplishments of honor students whatsoever,'' he said next year's honor graduates will wear white sashes to signify their achievement.
"The response is overwhelmingly negative from people that I know,'' said Stanton, who estimated his current GPA is a "high 4 or low 5.''
Preeti Vadlamani, a 17-year-old senior, said since all incoming freshmen were told that if they earned a 4.0 they would wear white at graduation, the principal should have made the policy change effective for the new class of freshmen. That way their older school mates wouldn't have faced such a letdown.
"We were really sad,'' said Vadlamani, who has a 5.5 GPA.
Vadlamani, Stanton and their peers at Wharton aren't the only disappointed high achievers in town. King High School, in east Tampa, also is doing away with the white robes for honor graduates next spring. All will wear the same color robe, though that color hasn't been determined, said principal Mike Rowan.
Rowan said he met with students, faculty and parents before making the change. And, like Woods, he feels everyone in the same color robe would show "a sign of unity.''
King's honor graduates will still stand out in color-coded sashes, hoods or cords. They will sit together during the ceremony and will be called up first to receive their diplomas.
Rowan said that while King High is 52 years old, it has never had an established tradition of graduation attire — robes and accoutrements have changed over the years.
Woods said Wharton's change to a uniform blue color is a return to tradition; it's how the first few graduating classes at the 15-year-old school looked.
"For some reason, in 2003 or 2004, they started recognizing honor graduates by having them wear white gowns,'' he said.
Wharton student Richard Berrouet, 17, said he's in favor of the new policy. "I think it's actually a good change.''
Berrouet has an estimated 3.4 weighted GPA, he said, and would therefore not have qualified to wear the white robe. But he will wear a cord to indicate that he is a member of the National Society of High School Scholars.
Though a number of his honor student friends remain agitated over the change, Berrouet feels the principal's action makes graduation a more positive experience.
"It symbolizes unity, coming together for one last time before we all go our separate ways.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.