Withhold the High School Diploma?  Yep, You Betcha

Eldest graduated from high school the other evening, ending thirteen years of public education before moving on to the next stage.  So there’s a vested interest to read that a high school actually withheld the diplomas of four graduates because of their families excessive celebrating.  Were the superintendent and principal correct in their action?

Let’s set the stage for the personal event.  Eldest was one of 461 students to graduate in her class and the ceremony was held in the air-conditioned gym of a local university; the district shifted the ceremony there after multiple attendees fainted in the high school facility two years ago due to the heat.  There’s a decent sound system and the event occurred in an orderly process as the graduates received their diplomas in two separate lines entering from opposite sides of the stage.  Cameras set up opposite each line allowed a video feed of each graduate to one of two separate large screens so that the thousands of people there were able to see their kid receive their diploma.  The ceremony was so smoothly handled that the 461 graduates received their diplomas in the span of approximately fifteen and the entire ceremony was completed in 90 minutes.

At the outset of the ceremony, the principal spoke and as part of his remarks, asked that parents and guests refrain from any applause or cheering until the end so that all of the families there were able to hear the name of their own child being announced.  It was only a few minutes into the actual awarding of diplomas that the first family began to cheer and then, multiple other families yelled vociferously and in one instance, the family blew noisemakers.  The large majority of the guests followed the request, but a small minority refused.  Sure enough, in each instance of celebration, the names of at least one or more subsequent graduates were rendered unintelligible in the din and those families might have seen the child on the screen, but never heard the name being announced.  Despite the noise and intermittent hoopla, the ceremony occurred without interruption and those that couldn’t hear their graduate’s name called were simply out of luck.

Based upon the linked article, the Cincinnati school district is several years ahead of ours in terms of the issue.  Eldest’s class was frankly warned by the administration that any misbehavior or excessive display on their part could imperil the receipt of the diploma.  I have little doubt that the Cincinnati administration did the same and managed to bring the graduates under control – assuming that they actually followed through on their threat.  But it became apparent that the issue wasn’t with the graduates but with the families themselves and after multiple efforts to request mutual respect of one another over the course of several years – and heated complaints from other parents – they settled upon a policy of holding the diploma pending appropriate behavior by all parties.  This policy was announced in writing and disseminated with the tickets that were distributed to the families so no one can say that they shouldn’t have known.  The only remaining question would be whether the school administration would actually follow through on the new policy. 

When the event occurred, multiple families celebrated and according to the article, it wasn’t the noise level so much as the duration.  This meant that the families immediately following their own kids weren’t able to hear the names called and the school responded as had been promised.  Be clear on something here:  the only thing withheld is the actual paper diploma and the four graduates were able to participate with their class in the ceremony.  Their names were announced and they walked up and – if there school is like Eldest’s – received the leather folder which was actually empty as the diplomas themselves were disseminated at the end of the ceremony after the class had filed out to whatever tune was played. 

Let’s be frank.  The public culmination of thirteen years of public education is the graduation ceremony.  Critics can say that public education has been dumbed down enough so as to render the achievement meaningless but there are plenty of kids for whom it is an achievement and the same goes for their families.  Together, many have weathered whatever challenges might have arisen in that period.  Families have been affected by lost jobs and foreclosed houses, the dissolution of families caused by divorce or the difficulties arising from substance abuse.  The ceremony is, for many, the public capstone to their thirteen year experience and is as important for them as for others.  I understand how important it is to the families to hear their child’s name publicly proclaimed and I suspect that any of these four families would be hurt to find that their graduate’s name was omitted.  So here’s the trade-off that the school has put forward:  go ahead if you want to cheer so lustily that the following names are unintelligible but expect that the diploma will be withheld as a small token to the graduates who receive their diploma but whose recognition has been virtually erased by your own noise.

My sympathies lie with the graduates, both those with names drowned out and those celebrated.  These kids have a common bond not shared by the families and I suspect that there’s some loyalty to one another that the families don’t understand.  Many kids tend to be easily embarrassed by their family’s actions and if these four are like mine, the discipline is doubled as the withholding of the diploma is matched by the embarrassment at their parents’ behavior.

If my own school district should decide to pursue such a policy, I will support it and I know of about five other families who will as well.


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