Some high school seniors in Utah concerned about graduation attire

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Many high school seniors across the state are counting down the days until graduation. It’s a big day, which is why some students and members of the Asian American Pacific Islander Community are expressing concern around what they can and can’t wear to graduation.

The countdown is on for seniors Aleigha Simeona and Myles Taumoepeau. There’s only 12 more days until they walk with the rest of their class to graduate from Westlake High School.

This is why they were upset when they heard they wouldn’t be able to wear what they say is their cultural attire to graduation.

“Our leis are kind of like our big symbol or like celebratory. It kind of shows how proud we are of our culture,” Taumoepeau said.

Coming from a Tongan family, Taumoepeau says wearing leis and tupenus, a type of cloth skirt, is a way to bring a piece of those they love along with them on their big day.

“It kind of represents our families and how they play a factor in our lives,” Taumoepeau said.

Brigetta Uta’i says this is a conversation that’s been sticking around for far too long.

“Ten years later and this is still a conversation. I don’t understand why when diversity is being celebrated so much,” she said. “Why are we allowed to do so much with our culture yet not during this huge milestone of graduating high school?”

Uta’i, a proud Somoan with immigrant parents, graduated from Jordan High School back in 2011.

The high school where she graduated from is part of the same school district that says while the future may look differently, this year, the school district will not be allowing cultural attire as part of their dress code policy.

The Jordan School District responded to KSL TV with this statement:

The Jordan School District dress code policy was updated in November with no adjustment made by the Board for rules regarding graduation. However, we will be discussing cultural clothing at graduation in the future, but we do not expect a change for this year.

In response, Alpine School District, which is home to Westlake High School, has since passed HB30, which allows students to wear certain cultural attire, so long as they get administrative pre-approval.

The Alpine School District shared this statement with KSL TV:

The cap and gown issued by the school represent the uniform for graduation and should be worn appropriately and not altered. The recently passed HB30 expanded the graduation uniform, allowing cultural expressions for cultural regalia and objects of “religious and cultural significance” for our qualified Native students and inclusive of other cultures. (ie, Pacific Islander formal Ta’ovala and leis, feather, flowers, necklaces, etc. in moderation). Graduating students may be afforded the opportunity to wear objects of religious and cultural significance. Additions to the cap and gown should reflect culturally significant objects to the students, families, and their communities. They should not include representations of drugs, violence, political speech, flags, or other non-religious or non-culturally significant objects. Students must obtain administrative pre-approval for adjustments to graduation wear. The cultural and religious objects should be worn appropriately and in moderation.

Aleigha Simeona shared her hope for future graduating classes.

“Maybe they open it up more for future years, like, they let other people do it you don’t have to get permission — maybe kind of loosen up those rules a little bit,” Simeona said.

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