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UNC seniors show personality and divert from tradition with their graduation outfits

Sophie Swift, a senior computer science major, poses for a portrait at Kenan Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2021. "I want to be true to myself," says Swift, who's opting to wear a jumpsuit to the ceremony. "And dress in a way that really feels like me."

Wearing a white dress is tradition for many graduation ceremonies, but some students take a different approach to break the norm. 

This year’s ceremonies are unlike the rest. In accordance with mass gathering guidelines, the University plans to have several in-person ceremonies in May. The graduations will be held at Kenan Stadium and will be live-streamed for those who cannot be in attendance. 

Despite the changes that seniors will endure for their graduation, many students plan to make the most of the circumstances, as they use their fashion sense to curate ensembles that show their personality and flare for style. 

Melanie Exum, majoring in human development and family studies: 

Exum plans to wear a flowy, white dress with ruffles at her graduation ceremony. She will add a pair of tan-colored heels and accessorize with Carolina Blue earrings her mother gave her. 

For her graduation pictures, Exum said she wore two different outfits for the photo shoot. One was the same white dress and the other was a more comfortable outfit — a Carolina Blue crop top, ripped denim pants and a pair of sneakers with Carolina Blue accents. Exum said this outfit shows the cool side of her personality.

Daily Tar Heel: Do you plan to stick with the traditional white dress for the ceremony or will you wear something different? 

Melanie Exum: “Whenever I was looking for a dress I was open to other options because I know a lot of people were talking about something floral or navy blue. I was open to the idea, but I knew in the back of my head that I still wanted that traditional look because I think the white dress is very pretty. It’s sophisticated and I think that it complements that Carolina Blue really well.” 

DTH: Do the accessories that you choose to wear have personal meaning to you, and do they help you express yourself and stand out more? 

ME: “(The earrings) mean something to me because my mom gave them to me. My mom did go to Carolina and I am really close with her. My relationship with her means a lot to me and it’s like I am following in her footsteps and that’s what those earrings remind me of.” 

Sophie Swift, majoring in computer science: 

Swift is considering a strapless, white pantsuit for graduation. She said this choice of outfit speaks to her journey of self-discovery and what she feels most comfortable in. Swift will accessorize with a white necklace that was a gift from her mom and fun, dangling earrings. 

DTH: Why is it important for you to express yourself through what you choose to wear at graduation? 

Sophie Swift: “For starters, I am a person that doesn’t dress up if I can help it. I don’t really have a reason, I just prefer to be comfortable. It’s just important to me that I feel like myself at the same time because I want to look back and be proud of what I wore. I think if I wore something that matched everybody else and felt fairly similar I’d be like, ‘Oh, that was great, but I didn’t feel confident.’” 

DTH: What advice would you give future graduating seniors that might want to break tradition and wear something different? 

SS: “They should wear what they feel confident and sexy in. I think there are so many little things to spice up things that could otherwise feel like the norm and traditional. If that’s what people want, that’s awesome. As long as they feel like they are reflecting their authentic selves, then I think they are doing exactly what they should be doing.” 

Kamiran Waddell, majoring in communication studies: 

Waddell plans to wear a plain white shirt, navy blue dress pants and black or brown loafers. She has two contrasting outfits in mind for her senior pictures, a prep look and a green pantsuit. She said her sense of style is androgynous and that the freedom of adulthood permits her the ability to separate from traditions. 

DTH: Why do you feel it is important for you to be unique in your fashion choices for graduation and your senior pictures?

Kamiran Waddell: “I don’t wear dresses. I’m not a heels person. I’m more androgynous and that’s what I feel most comfortable in. In high school, it was what my parents wanted me to wear, but now I’m an adult, so I can wear what I want and feel comfortable in that and not really care about being traditional because I’m not really traditional in who I am.” 

DTH: Do these fashion choices for graduation speak to your personality and do you genuinely enjoy dressing up for special occasions? 

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KW: “For me, personally, I’m able to express myself through fashion and it’s an expression of me on how I want people to perceive me. Queer people fashion is so much of being able to express who we are. When you look good, you feel good, so I want to feel my best.” 

Liz Hornick, majoring in communication studies and media and journalism: 

Hornick thought about choosing another outfit for graduation besides a white dress, but she opted to stay with the tradition to please her parents. Although she plans to stick with this, Hornick said she found a way to accessorize the outfit to her own liking.

DTH: What accessories will you add to your outfit to spice up your attire for the ceremony?

Liz Hornick: “I wear platforms a lot, so I wanted to keep that part of myself. I bought some new black platforms. I have a pair of pink platforms, so whenever I did grad pics, halfway through I was like, ‘It just doesn’t feel like me.’ I needed to wear the pink ones. I felt much more comfortable after, so I think I’m going to stick with those for the graduation ceremony as well.” 

DTH: Why do you feel the need to express yourself and your personality through your graduation outfit choices? 

LH: “I think fashion became something I got into in middle school. I’d always find ways within the dress code to push the limits or stand out without fully breaking the rules. Now, especially being in college, there is no dress code. With graduation, there’s those traditional expectations of what should be worn and I’m going to follow that. In doing so, I don’t want to do it the same way that everyone else does. I want to look traditional, but still me.”

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