Don’t Throw Your Graduation Cap

There was quite a bit of century left in the twentieth when I graduated from high school. As I sat watching my nephew’s commencement last week, my mother’s words on my graduation day came back to mind.


I don’t know either of these people. (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik) I also don’t know Joe Shlabotnik.

I glanced over at Mom. She was so proud of her grandson on his big day (the first of many, I’m sure). It didn’t seem right to interrupt my mother’s enjoyment of the moment by saying “hey, what was that all about?” So I resolved to ask later about what she’d said to me back in 1979.

Because I’m over fifty, I forget things. I’ve even forgotten what I was thinking about in the midst of thinking it. I planned to ask after the ceremony about the dire warning she’d given me before my graduation, but after listening to the intoning of 600 names, I forgot all about doing that. But then a reader commented on my post from about graduations, saying that her high school graduating class hadn’t been allowed to wear caps “for safety reasons”. That brought my mother’s warning flooding back into my memory:

Don’t throw your cap at the end of graduation, you’ll hit someone in the eye.

The Tie That Binds Is A Tassle

English: A vector image of a mortar board hat.

Dangerous? (Photo credit: Wikipedia, public domain)

In that moment, I saw it, the bond between these two women – a grandmother from the U.S. and a new high school graduate from Canada. A legend connected them – The Legend Of The Graduate Who Was Hit In The Eye By A Flying Mortar Board”.

“The Legend Of The Graduate Who…” spans the border between two nations. Perhaps they’ve heard of the legend in Guanajuato, or Zihuatanejo or even Mexico City. If so, we could say that The Graduate’s tale spans a continent.

Grandview Grade School Children at Play, 1917

My sister’s friend’s uncle knew the kid that did it. (Photo credit: UA Archives | Upper Arlington History)

But does anyone know the one-eyed swab behind the legend? Who is this mysterious, eye-patched academic whose sad fate represses cap throwers from border to border? Does she exist? Perhaps she’s just another urban legend, living next door to that boy who swung so hard he went over and around the top bar of the swing set.

Reveal Yourself. I Want No Hassle.

I call upon this graduate/accidental pirate to reveal themselves to me and the vast Blurt readership.

Speaking of the vast readership, maybe one of you knows this cyclops scholar. If you do, bring her forth. Encourage her (or him, as the case may be) to tell her tale. By validating her sad situation for us all, she can help us protect the retinas, rods and cones of generations to come.

Or she can remain an anonymous legend who is part of a cautionary tale. A legend whose fate becomes less believable with time. A tale that goes from cautionary to ignored.

Let us keep our young people safe. But let us also vow not to repress their exuberance based on urban legend.



32 Comments on “Don’t Throw Your Graduation Cap”

  1. Laura says:

    I think we were warned not to throw our caps, too, but I always thought the reason was that we had to return them the next day, and if you threw them, they might get dirty or stepped on or something.

    • omawarisan says:

      The school owned the caps and gowns? God, I had to buy the one for my son’s graduation. It was crazy expensive. I still tell him to wear it now and again to get my money’s worth out of it. He says he does, but I’m not sure I believe him.

      • Laura says:

        It wasn’t the school, exactly — there was some third-party cap-and-gown supplier that we rented them from. But I remember being warned that we’d be charged a huge amount of money (at least, by my standards at that time) if the caps or gowns were damaged in any way.

  2. Blogdramedy says:

    Excuse me but the only reason to go to the grad ceremony is to toss the hat. Every teen knows this. It’s the last almost risk-free activity of high school.

    • omawarisan says:

      Exactly. You fling the cap, then go out into the real world thing, which is sort of the transitional world.

    • Agreed. The only reason I went to my graduation at all was to throw my cap. And because my mom made me. I wanted to go to a dog show instead. If I couldn’t have thrown my cap, I’d have headed out of state.

      • omawarisan says:

        A dog show? I think if you went they should have announced your name anyhow followed with “chose to go to a dog show”. That’s sufficiently different and cool to be announcement worthy.

  3. My mother spoke of the woman you seek. She lost an eye when, after throwing her own cap in the air, she looked up to see its progress only to have someone else’s cap come hurtling down from above and poke out her left eye. It was a most unfortunate event in the young woman’s life. She had already had a tough road getting through High School, due to her physical challenges. Apparently as a 7 year old, she had made a funny face one time too often and it stuck that way. She also struggled because of the amputation. As a rambunctious, funny faced 10 year old, she had hung her arm out the car window – don’t make me go into graphic details. Years later, her mother was unable to warn her about the flying caps because she was still in the hospital on graduation day. Mom had been fine, but just a few days before the ceremony, the funny faced, one armed girl had inadvertantly stepped on a crack, thus breaking her mother’s back. A tragic tale.

  4. I think the cap thing is an American thing. We didn’t have caps in high school or college. The gowns were only worn for college and they were supplied for the couple of hours we needed them. I have been looking at various photos sent from friends in the past week of their spawn graduating and there is not one cap among them.

  5. Dream says:

    During my mid-80’s HS graduation, we were given rolled-up pieces of blank paper as we crossed the stage. They held our real diplomas hostage to guarantee our “respectful” behavior during the ceremony. The top two mandates were no acting up as we crossed the stage and no cap throwing.

  6. This may be more common than we realize. You may get a few thousand people revealing themselves… all with eye patches?

  7. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I grieve for the lost art of ducking. I hate to see traditions like these go the way of the dodo bird just because people seem to have lost the ability to duck when something with a corner is heading for their eyeball. I blame the cellphone. No one pays any attention to hazards in the environment anymore, so, they’re not getting any practice at ducking.

  8. Debbie says:

    Not tossing a mortarboard, I think, is one of those things adults tell kids that sound reasonable but have no reason behind them. Kind of like not running with scissors. We didn’t toss our caps for high school OR university. We must have blindly accepted the logic.

  9. mikegee64 says:

    If you are stupid enough to not watch out for flying hats at a graduation, you don’t deserve a diploma.

    I’ve always wondered about this sort of thing. It is not exclusive to mothers, either. I defy anyone to find a father who does not claim to have seen some kid “Blow his goddamn fingers clean off his hand with one of those things”. Those things, were firecrackers. It is unanimous. All fathers have seen it. It has actually become part of the pre-natal education program at many hospitals.

  10. We Found Him Captain! says:

    I know the lady you seek and shall ask her for an autograph and also for before and after photographs of her graduation day. She may also be willing to reveal the true story of how the incident happened and how it changed her entire life. She never got her graduation cap back.

    I know she takes in sick and/or injured dogs. We refer to her as “the sick dog lady”. She currently cares for three injured dogs. One is a one-eyed German Shepard who, oddly enough, also lost an eye during a graduation ceremony. The dog was a trained seeing-eye guide dog attending the graduation with his blind master. The dog, formerly known as “I only have eyes for you” now responds only to the name “one eyed Jack”. The dog was placed on disability retirement and was adopted by my “sick dog” neighbor several years ago. End of story.

  11. In light of the fact that the movie “A Christmas Story” came out early to mid-eighties I have no idea from whence this myth came but maybe you best questioned Jack Sparrow…..or his mother…just saying.

  12. I was not the most carefree kid. I threw my hat just a little bit in the air, and made sure I knew where I landed so I could quickly retrieve it, lest I lose my deposit.

  13. pezcita says:

    Mortar boards should be outlawed. I threw mine at graduation, only because I was in such a hurry to get it off. Everyone else seemed proud to wear the board and look the fool.

  14. I remember at my college graduation we weren’t allowed to toss our caps either. So a few friends and I got together beforehand and did it while our parents took photos. It was a bit lame. Ok. A lot lame.

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