Wearing Their Hearts on Their Graduation Caps

“Members of the class of 2019 share the inspiration behind their decorated mortarboards.” L. Moore, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Excerpt: Wearing Their Hearts on Their Graduation Caps By Lela Moore, The New York Times

“Decorating one’s graduation cap has become a way for many students to express themselves on their big day, but often the meaning behind their artwork can be hard to decipher. We asked readers graduating this year to tell us the stories behind their mortarboards.Here’s a selection; their comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.”

Credit Shefa Ahsan

Shefa Ahsan, from Lanham, Md., graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia with a B.A. in film and media arts:

“Throughout my years of being a resident assistant, students have told me that they don’t want to live anymore. While I can’t see my cap when I wear it, everyone else can. And I want, need, everyone to know that each and every one of them has a purpose on this earth. That each and every one of them matters.”

Credit Stephanie Fisher

Stephanie Fisher, Salem, Ore., graduated from Western Governors University in Salt Lake City with a B.A. in elementary education.

“I had the students in the kindergarten and first-grade class I worked in as a student teacher write their name on a petal that I turned into a giant flower. I wanted to take a small part of them with me to graduation, as I don’t graduate locally. The center daisy is in honor of my aunt Cathy, who died from cancer. Daisies were her favorite flowers.”

Credit Peta-Gaye Dixon

Peta-Gaye Dixon, from New York, graduated from Brooklyn College with a B.A. in childhood education.

“I immigrated to the United States from Jamaica five years ago, away from my family there. I had to work two or more jobs to survive, but I stayed in school full time and was on the dean’s list every semester. The quote says, ‘If yuh waan good yuh nose haffi run,’ which means that if you want to succeed, you must work hard.”

Credit Rachel Lucyanna

Rebecca Olsen, from Atlanta, graduated from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., with a B.A. in English and religious studies.

“My quote, from Morgan Harper Nichols, a Christian poet, is about remembering both mountains and valleys because so many mountains and valleys brought me to graduation. God has used every high and every low to teach me something important, and I wanted to remember that when I graduated.”

Credit Julie Lam

Julie Lam from New York, graduated from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., with an M.F.A. in creative writing for fiction.

“There’s so much more to what is underneath these words, coming from an immigrant who grew up in Hong Kong, having witnessed the horror of Cultural Revolution through her family’s eyes in China and the Tiananmen Square massacre as a college student… Walking through the crowd, in the sea of black gowns and hats, I wanted my words in blue to shine through the red and white stripes and show the world my loyalty and love for America…”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  the topic.  Next, have students look at the pictures in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article.  Regroup as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.

G. Cluster Brainstorming-workshopexercises

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Many graduating college students are now decorating their mortarboards.
  2. A first-generation college student bucked family pressure.
  3. Another student chose a quotation from a Christian poet.
  4. The meaning behind their artwork can be hard to decipher.
  5. Their comments have been edited for clarity.
  6. One student immigrated to the United States from Jamaica.
  7. Some graduates find joy among enthusiastic and open-minded people.
  8. One student wanted the cap to represent their vibrant culture.
  9. Students are concerned about the future of journalism.
  10. One graduate decided to incorporate their family and history onto the cap.

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

I’m/Im a first-generation colleges/college student, so the pressure/pressured to pursue a safe major was/were on from the start of college. Study/Studying art history was a bet that I’m/I’d get the most out of college engaging/engage with something I truly loved, and one that I’m happy to say paid/pay off.


Reading ComprehensionFill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Canoe ___has been a lifelong ___of mine and it has ___me so many important life lessons. You cannot always ___easily ___in life; sometimes you have to ___hard and ___upriver ___the current, but that is what makes the ___worthwhile.

WORD LIST: adventure, downstream, work, paddle, passion, against, float, tripping, taught,

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

  1. Do you think this is a good idea for college graduates? Explain why or why not.
  2. In your school (or country) are students allowed to decorate their mortarboards?
  3. In the comments section one reader had this criticism,Am I the only curmudgeon left who believes that this indecorous and self-indulgent ornamentation is an insult to a solemn thousand-year-old ceremony, as well as to the professors who taught and the families who raised these students? here were a handful of these at my undergrad commencement in 1991, generally worn by students who thought they were better than everyone else, and who wanted to display that fact as loudly as possible.” How would you respond to this person?
  4. After viewing each photo  choose one or two and write a paragraph sharing your thoughts on the mortarboard decorations.
  5. List 3  questions you would like to ask any person mentioned in the article.  Share your questions as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class.


Category: Education | Tags: