When Isabella Miglino graduated from Bellport High School on Friday, she wore a gown identical to her classmates’ — but her cap was decorated with a photo of TV host Guy Fieri from the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and his signature quote, “And we’re rolling out!”
“I wanted to do something that would make people laugh a little bit,” says Miglino, 17.
When Daniella Marroquin graduated from Hempstead High, the top of her cap featured a Salvadoran flag, where her parents hail from, and the Millie the Bear mascot from Barnard College, where she is headed next. “My parents have sacrificed a lot for me to pursue high school here and also pursue education after,” says Marroquin, 18.
And when Brooke Dubay graduated from Sayville High School, her cap bore a photo of a 7-year-old from Lindenhurst named Dominik in an Iron Man superhero costume. Dubay, 17, is a cancer survivor, but Dominik, who went through radiation with her, wasn’t as lucky. “He was such an inspiration for me to keep going. I thought it would be really cool to do a memorial thing for him,” Dubay says. She invited his parents to her graduation ceremony.
Decorating caps for graduation has become part of the rite of passage on Long Island, along with senior prom, valedictorian speeches, and “Pomp and Circumstance.” Students often map out in advance what they want to do for their caps, because in many cases, they don’t receive them until a few days before graduation ceremonies.
They’ve been perusing social media for inspiration and heading to craft stores for supplies, says Rianna Raghunandan, 17, of Bellport High School. “You could literally search ‘graduation cap designs’ on Pinterest or Etsy,” she says. She included representations of her chosen college — Yale University — as well as nods to the band BTS she listened to through high school.
A DOSE OF PERSONALITY
For some schools, cap decorating has been a tradition for years. At others, such as Jericho High School, this is the first year that students were permitted to inject their uniform graduation caps and gowns with a dose of personality.
“I had a few students come to me and ask if we could make it a tradition at Jericho,” says Jericho co-principal David Cohen, who has been at the school for three years. “I came from a school that allowed cap decoration. It was a magnificent form of student expression and celebration. We had some internal discussion here and we felt with the right parameters it could be a great tradition to start.” Parameters include keeping messages and artwork “school appropriate,” Cohen says.
Olivia Edelman, 18, was one of the Jericho students who made the request. “At graduation, everyone does generically look the same way. This allows for students to show and express their identity and have everyone look a little different and unique,” she says.
Many students use their caps to show off what’s next in their life’s journey. Edelman decorated her cap with a blinged-out M for University of Michigan, where she is headed to study psychology in the fall. And while the caps are an individual expression, many students gather at parties to decorate them together. “A last bonding experience,” Edelman says.
MEMORIES AND MESSAGES
Sara Chan, 18, has attended Jericho schools since kindergarten, and she used photographs from elementary through high school on her cap, with an overlay of a symbol of the University of Virginia, where she is headed to study public policy and data science. “I fully intend to keep it, treasure it and frame it,” Chan says of her decked-out cap. Many schools allow students to keep their caps.
Zachary Arzt, 17, of Merrick, already graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore on June 12. “I’m going to the University of Florida, so I put the Gator logo in the center,” he says. Megan Hansen, 18, of Bellmore, also graduated on June 12, from Calhoun High School in Merrick, and wrote “That’s a wrap Calhoun!” on her cap along with a directors’ clapboard.
Others are using their caps for more somber reasons. D’Niey Dennis, 18, a senior at Wyandanch High School, is dedicating her cap to her older brother who died in October. It will say, “Did It For You.” “I just wanted it to be that everybody knows I did if for my brother. I graduated. I kept going like he wanted me to.” Dennis plans to attend Georgia State University to study business.
JD Wolynetz, 18, of Brentwood, shared a feel-good message for classmates — and a reminder for himself — during his ceremonial walk: “It sounds kind of corny, but ‘Inside everyone is gold.’”
He paired that quote with a decagon, a 10-sided shape that represents the mathematic “Golden Ratio.” Wolynetz says he, like many teens, went through a sort of “impostor syndrome” but has come to believe in his own self-worth. He’s headed to Farmingdale State College in the fall to study applied math.
Also going the inspirational message route was Chelsea Esprit, 17, of Valley Stream, who graduated this month from Nassau BOCES. "Always seems impossible till it's done," her cap said. "Before I got a chance to go to that school [BOCES Barry Tech], graduating kind of seemed impossible," she says. Now she's headed to Hunter Business School in Levittown planning to become a licensed practical nurse.
Arden Goldberg, 17, a senior at Syosset High School, used gemstones and glitter to make her cap “sparkle and shine” for her graduation ceremony. She highlighted her intended college, Ohio State University, and she invited friends over to order pizza in her backyard and decorate caps together. “It’s something very sentimental,” Goldberg says. “I’m so happy that my school allows it.”