Sunday, July 01, 2012

Three cheers and you're out

Commencement should be a joyous time of year. Witnessing students receive diplomas earned after completing their course of study is a ritual of which any parent can be rightfully proud.

Reports of two incidents, one in South Carolina and another in Ohio, however, raise questions about just how far the celebration should go when children receive their diploma -- and raise even more questions about how strongly an institution should respond to keep over-the-top celebration in check.

The first incident occurred in Florence, S.C. Spectators were told they would be removed from the Florence Civic Center if they cheered for students as they received their diplomas from South Florence High School. Shannon Cooper cheered for her graduating daughter nonetheless and was escorted from the building by police into a van outside the building. She told reporters that she was then taken to the Florence County Detention Center and held until she posted a $225 bond. She subsequently pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct and requested a trial by jury, which is scheduled for September.

The second incident occurred in Cincinnati, at Mt. Healthy High School's commencement ceremony. After graduating senior Anthony Cornist's family was deemed to have engaged in excessive cheering, he was informed that his diploma was being withheld -- and told he must complete 20 hours of community service before receiving it.

Having attended commencement ceremonies over the years, I'm familiar with the regular incantations from the administrators to withhold all applause until after all graduates have received their diplomas. I'm also familiar with the fact that rarely if ever does an audience of family members and loved ones comply with these requests.

That everyone ignores the pleas for restraint doesn't make things right. But it does raise the question of what's an appropriate response to cheering that's deemed to be "excessive."

If the attendees at South Florence High School's commencement ceremony were clearly warned that excessive cheerers would be removed from the ceremony, it seems fair to expect that it would not be an idle threat. But removing someone from the hall is one thing. Arresting the excessive cheerer as well seems a bit overboard. If attendees were warned that they would not only be removed but charged with disorderly conduct, however, then at least those breaking the rule were the ones being punished.

That doesn't seem to be the case in Cincinnati. There, the students were held responsible for the behavior of the spectators cheering them on. It hardly seems fair to punish a graduating senior because his family and friends can't contain their enthusiasm. It would seem akin to punishing a high school athlete because his loved ones got into a brawl during a game.

The right thing is to make the rules clear, but to make sure the rules hold the violators directly responsible for their own actions. Punishing graduating seniors who presumably were well behaved themselves throughout the ceremony sends a warped message about fairness and accountability.

Rules are rules and if they're made clear people can be expected to abide by them or risk facing consequences. But it would also serve school administrators well to examine whether the rules they set for a celebratory occasion are out of whack to begin with and some re-education is needed to not cast a pall on an otherwise joyous occasion. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc. 


drostbr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I beg to differ with this comment, I just watched the graduation of my granddaughter on live internet and saw a few graduates hug the presenter, call to their friends, pause for pictures from family, acknowledge cheers from friends, etc., and no harm was done and no one complained. In my opinion, some of our school authorities have gotten into the picture way too much, setting too many rules for graduation and try to over-control what has to be the highlight of each graduate's young life. Let them and the families celebrate. Stop being a killjoy.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

William Jacobson said...

My God Jeffrey!

I can't imagine that under any circumstance that it would be reasonable to either arrest family members for cheering or withhold the diploma from a graduate due to the purported misdeeds of another.

I understand the need to preserve dignity and decorum for all involved but how full of yourself do you have to be to place the logistics of your ceremony above the well earned celebrations of the recipients... Is this about you or about them?!?

On the former incident, if spectators were informed that they would be removed from the auditorium for cheering, then they should be removed from the auditorium, not arrested. What an incredible waste of limited taxpayer dollars than pursuing this case!

On the latter incident, how incredibly vague is a term such as "excessive cheering" and by whose standard do we measure? Regardless, it is completely unjust to penalize the student for a spectator's misdeed.

If this sort of limited thought process is representative of the administrations of Florence and Mt. Healthy High Schools, then I applaud Ms. Cooper and Mr. Cornist for escaping relatively unscathed. Our students deserve better than these incidents.

William Jacobson, esq
Anaheim, CA

drostbr said...

Does it matter in the case of Cinci that the parents and graduates were informed ahead of time what would happen if there was "Excessive" cheering? I believe parents and graduates needed to sign a slip indicating that they were aware of the consequences for not following the rules (I believe the grad's mom said that she didn't read the paper even though she signed it). Now of course one could get into arguments about how to define "Excessive" or whether or not anyone who could possibly attend such a ceremony (Grandparent, etc.) was adequately notified of the consequences. I guess my point is, if the parents didn't like the policy ahead of time or didn't read the paper, isn't there a significant weight on them to have challenged the policy at that time, not later on?

Dr. Bryan R. Drost

ECS Esq. said...

I agree with the previous posts. On what basis has it become OK or right make unnecessary rules because the power to do so exists? There was no danger, no problem AT ALL as far as one can tell.

And arrest? for boisterous enthusiasm? Now it seems anyone can be arrested at any time for being "disorderly"-- all that is required is someone doesn’t like it.

Chilling indeed.

Susan Smith said...

While you made some good points in your article on excessive cheering vs excessive restraint, I think you missed a point. How long since you attended a high school graduation? The unruly behavior starts with the kids, who sneak in tortillas (they make great Frisbees), beach balls, and even liquor under those caps and gowns. If you frisk the kids in the pre-ceremony gathering area, their buddies hand them stuff during the processional. It continues with the families and friends in the stands, who disrupt the ceremonies with air horns, bullhorns, vuvuzuelas (sp?), screams and shouts. A simple 45 minute ceremony turns into 90 minutes of intense crowd control. I'm sure if you were at the graduations, these people arrested or removed weren't just "cheering," they were prematurely turning a ceremony into a celebration.

As for punishing students for parent's misbehavior, that's not a matter of misplaced accountability. An excessively cheering family was never told by the student of the potential consequences, either on purpose or through the fault of the STUDENT. They have been told the rules, multiple times in multiple venues, about behavioral expectations during graduation. And every year, the ceremony is as close to chaos as you let the students and parents push it.

Volunteer to help with next June's local high school graduation. Then write another article in a year. I dare you.

Petaluma High School
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