Sunday, June 28, 2009

Denied a diploma for blowing a kiss?

Earlier this month the ABC-affiliate from Portland, Maine reported that high school student Justin Denney was denied his diploma after "misbehaving" during his graduation ceremony. Denney's misbehavior? Blowing his family a kiss and bowing on stage.

The "proud gestures" were enough for superintendent Suzanne Lukas to deny Denney his diploma, saying that the boy's actions violated a code of conduct signed by the graduating students. After a public uproar over the situation, the school board met to discuss the decision. It is reported that the school board supported the superintendent's actions, though they did mail Denney his diploma.

According to ABC, Denney and his family have asked for an apology and for the superintendent to step down, but the superintendent defends her actions and states that "this is a closed issue" as far as she is concerned.

Having watched video of the graduation in question (not the video above), I understand why school officials instituted a policy to maintain order during the graduation ceremony. Students were batting around beach balls and acting up during various points during the ceremony, which was obviously distracting to families, as well as the students who were not participating in the shenanigans. School officials said that graduations had been quite rowdy in the past, which is why strict standards were implemented.

What concerns me is the obvious difference between disrespectful teenagers bashing each other with beach balls, and a student blowing his family a kiss after four years of hard work. Denney wasn't showboating. He didn't yell and do cartwheels on the stage; he merely showed excitement at his accomplishment. He wasn't misbehaving, he was being a kid!

The fact that a superintendent and school board would stand behind their misguided decision to deny a student his diploma is even more appalling. An apology is certainly called for. Denney was denied the opportunity to graduate with his class -- he'll never again have the opportunity to relive that moment. In addition, Superintendent Lukas was completely out of line. If she was worried about misbehavior, she should have paid more attention to the catcalls and beach balls in the audience and less attention to a student celebrating his achievement.

I was initially shocked when I heard this story, but the shock quickly wore off, since I hear stories like this far too often. We live in a society of excess. On one hand there are children being allowed to throw beach balls to interrupt a graduation ceremony, and on the other there are school officials punishing a minor offender (if it can be classified as offensive at all). Children shouldn't be allowed to throw beach balls during graduation, but who's to blame for that? Where are the parents teaching manners about social decorum? Where are the teachers who tell the kids how proud they are and explain how to act during the ceremony? Perhaps if we taught our children about socially-acceptable displays of exuberance and affection, we wouldn't be dealing with overly-excitable kids and an overly-uptight superintendent, with one boy singled out as an scapegoat.