Constance Rouda, minutes away from receiving her high school diploma, stepped to the podium at CMH Field on Saturday, adjusted the microphone and used her valedictorian speech to make a final argument to change Astoria’s “Fishermen” mascot.
“Change does not have to be intimidating, it can be exciting,” the senior began.
Astoria High School sports teams have been known as the Fishermen or the Fighting Fishermen for 100 years. Last year, Rouda argued that the name is not inclusive and that the unofficial nickname given to the girls teams, the “Lady Fish,” is problematic.
She proposed dropping the Lady Fish nickname and changing the official mascot from Fishermen to a more gender-neutral name. Friends had suggested “Fish” or “Mariner.” Rouda wanted it to be a schoolwide and community discussion.
But the effort stalled after a presentation to the high school leadership class last fall. The class, which includes a mix of students across grade levels, was split in its support. Principal Lynn Jackson estimated that as many as 80% of the leadership students who took a survey following Rouda’s presentation were either very much opposed to a change or indifferent.
The coronavirus pandemic and limits on social gatherings hampered the school district from holding a broader school and community discussion, something Jackson and district leaders felt needed to happen before any decision could be made.
So Rouda turned to the biggest social, school-related gathering the school district would hold all year: graduation day.
She was a little nervous. She had been warned by her counselor that the speech may not be received well by some. But she also thought the theme of change made sense for a graduation, and that talking about changes to the mascot fit well into her speech. When she finally stood at the podium, she only felt excitement.
“As a state-qualifying varsity athlete, captain and teammate, I only wish I could have fought and competed under a mascot that represented everyone on the team,” Rouda told the audience.
She added: “Our mascot currently does not represent all students and is not inclusive. If firemen and policemen felt the need to evolve to firefighters and police officers, then why can we not evolve from Fishermen?
“A new, gender-neutral mascot that still honors Astoria’s history, or shortening to the ‘Fish,’ which we already use frequently, would solve this problem. We want to be represented. We want to be valued.”
Rouda told her fellow seniors that she hoped “you become the change you want to see.”
As she finished, the same polite applause that followed the other student speakers ushered her from the podium.
Rouda will meet with Jackson next week to talk about next steps for the mascot discussion. But it’s complicated.
Since the mascot debate last year, both the girls softball and basketball teams have chosen to use the Lady Fish moniker, putting it on their gear, Jackson said.
Meanwhile, though academics and some government agencies might use the more neutral term of “fisher” to refer to anyone participating in commercial fishing, within the industry itself, men and women alike refer to themselves as “fishermen.”
Jackson believes the split he saw in the leadership class likely reflects opinions in the broader community, and there are certainly strong opinions on both sides.
There is also still the question of how to properly air the discussion in the school community. While school is expected to resume more normal operations in the fall, Jackson doesn’t expect to see a full school assembly anytime soon.
“So how do you address this issue with the student body?” he said.
There are also people in the community interested in weighing in. Ultimately, the matter would need to be brought to the school board for debate and a final decision, Superintendent Craig Hoppes said.
“It’s not a decision that the high school will make,” Hoppes said.
Rouda will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall, but she wants to remain available to the school district if the mascot discussions continue. Even if nothing changes, she thinks it has been a valuable process.
After graduation, Rouda, who swam and played golf on the school teams, heard from younger teammates. They hadn’t been aware of the mascot debate until they heard her speech. They wanted to share their own ideas for a new name.
These types of discussions provide an opportunity for people to hear each other’s opinions, a chance to empathize with and support each other, she believes. “I think having a conversation can be really eye-opening and beneficial,” she said.