A rite of passage each spring, high school graduations are supposed to be joyous occasions where young people, surrounded by family and friends, get to say goodbye to childhood and hello to a promising adulthood.
They’re not supposed to be tense affairs, where even the highest-achieving students have to worry about getting turned away by nitpicky school administrators or pulled away by cops for reasons that defy all logic and common sense.
Yet, sadly, this seems to be a trend this year.
At a graduation for Cosumnes Oaks High School last week, merit scholar Nyree Holmes was escorted out of Sleep Train Arena by a security officer and at least one Sacramento County deputy sheriff for wearing a ceremonial Ghanaian kente cloth over his graduation gown.
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“I wanted to show I’m proud of who I am and that as the descendant of slaves,” he told the Associated Press, “I represent Africa and my ancestry.”
He was allowed to walk across the stage and take a celebratory photo with the cloth draped around his neck. Then he was unceremoniously removed.
The last thing students learn from high school shouldn’t be how to avoid thinking critically just for the sake of blind adherence to some bureaucratic policy.
Never mind that Holmes is a merit scholar. Never mind that this happened in the Sacramento region, one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse places in the country. The rules are the rules, Elk Grove Unified School District said.
In Mesa, Ariz., a school denied the privilege of walking with his class to a student who had been diagnosed with cancer and who had withdrawn in his junior year to receive a bone marrow transplant. The student, Stephen Dwyer, also happens to be student body president, and he kept up with his studies enough to be less than three credits from graduating. He’ll finish in December.
But the rules are the rules, Mesa Public Schools said.
Meanwhile in Illinois, a high school refused to let a student walk across the stage with her classmates because she wore her U.S. Marine Corps dress blues instead of the traditional cap and gown. Never mind that it was a few days before Memorial Day. Never mind that Pvt. Megan Howerton finished coursework months ago, leaving early to start her military career.
The rules are the rules, McHenry West High School said.
This isn’t the lesson we should be teaching our next generation of leaders. The last thing students learn from high school shouldn’t be how to avoid thinking critically just for the sake of blind adherence to some bureaucratic policy.
Sure, rules exist for good reasons. But pre-empting the good judgment of trusted adults isn’t one of them.
Elk Grove Unified is right to review what happened to Holmes and come up with better ways to handle such situations in the future. Empowering administrators to use common sense and employ a bit of rational decision-making would certainly be a good start.