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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
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.