My graduating class and I were shuffled into the school auditorium Monday to sit for a presentation about our caps and gowns for graduation. This should have been exciting; after all, this meeting is one more sign that we really only have a handful of months left before we have the freedom to pursue our own goals and dreams.

However, try as she might, with all her fancy slideshows and inspirational talking, the Jostens spokeswoman could not garner excitement from me. I would like to make it clear that here and wherever she is mentioned throughout the rest of this commentary, this is not at all a personal attack on the Jostens spokeswoman. She seemed very nice and was just doing her job.

The reason for this damper on the occasion? The price tag. “Just four easy payments of $70 for a cap, gown, and tassel!” exclaims the packet we were all handed. $280. For a garment of clothing I will wear once.

As far as I know, we don’t even get to keep them — and if we did, what would be the point? They’d just be creating waste. But hey, if I fork over the first payment by next week, I get a couple of T-shirts to sweeten the deal. Not to mention all of the other selling she tried to do. Custom graduation card packages. Hats. Sweatshirts. Class rings, again, even though the Jostens people swore up and down sophomore year that it was a one-time-only opportunity.

The whole thing just seems unfair. If my parents and I decide we don’t want to spend a small fortune on my cap and gown, then I don’t get to walk at graduation. This price is an annoyance to me, but to many people, it will be a huge deal. At Battle High School, 50% of the student body qualified for free and reduced lunches as of 2018, according to the Missouri Department of Education.

If half the student body can’t afford school lunches, how are we going to pay for graduation “essentials”? After making it all the way through public education, now we have to pay to finish?

I know that graduation caps and gowns don’t appear out of thin air. Of course, the people who make and clean and sort and deliver the things should be compensated fairly — or more than fairly — for their efforts. But somehow, other school districts manage to get by for a fraction of the price. For instance, a quick Google search brings up graduation gown rental companies and retailers that sell their gowns for under or around $30. Even if we wanted to triple that amount to ensure quality, that’s $90. Where is the rest of the money going?

For many other school districts around the country, increased prices of caps and gowns often go toward the school to fund senior events like prom. I have not been made aware of any such money-sharing agreement between Jostens and Columbia Public Schools, and considering many of their payment methods go straight through the company without needing to submit forms or cash to the school, I think it’s unlikely, and that all $280 are going straight into Jostens’ pockets.

I don’t know what kind of contract Jostens has with Columbia Public Schools, but we need to consider how this is harming the people whom graduation is supposed to excite.

When we all filed back out of the auditorium, none of the conversations sounded hopeful. They were along the lines of “that felt so scammy” or “yeah, I don’t know how we’re going to afford this.” Why are we, as a community, letting this company steamroll our high school seniors’ bank accounts over and over again, in the name of tradition, for products that are the same quality or worse, according to some reviews I’ve seen, than another brand’s for nine times the price? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Allison Collier is a senior at Battle High School in Columbia.

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