In-person graduations are back, which is mostly great! There have been celebrations, hugs and smiles. But underneath, social problems remain that existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything in education a year ago.
Take the case of Joslyn Carlon, a student from Southern California, whose firefighter father had been murdered in a shooting spree by a fellow firefighter—mere days before her graduation.
Joslyn, with the support of hundreds of her fallen father’s colleagues cheering her on, wore her father’s firefighter jacket to accept her diploma, KABC reports.
But students of color have received vastly different treatment at other recent graduation ceremonies.
Things played out a little differently for Ever Lopez, a graduating senior in Asheboro, North Carolina. Much like Joslyn, Ever expressed something personal about himself during his graduation ceremony. He draped the Mexican flag over his shoulders to celebrate his heritage as he marked an important accomplishment.
Instead of applause or support from his school and community, Ever was denied his diploma for four days because the flag he had draped over his graduation gown was against the school’s attire requirements.
103,000 signatures on a Change.org petition named “Give this man his diploma” and a little national attention made the school do an about-face and surrender the diploma Ever earned.
“I ain’t apologizing for nothing,” Ever said upon belatedly receiving his diploma, per USA Today. “It’s you who should be apologizing. You’re the one doing wrong.”
Punished Over Footwear
In Boutte, Louisiana, a Black male senior at Hahnville High School was barred from even entering his graduation because he was not wearing the “right” shoes with his cap and gown.
The Washington Post reported, “According to the school’s graduation dress code, male students were to wear dark dress shoes, with an emphasis that ‘no athletic shoes’ were to be worn.”
Daverius told the Post he felt “humiliated” by the whole experience, especially because he thought the black shoes he was wearing seemed to him to fit the dress code.
Thankfully, school paraeducator John Butler was on the scene. Butler offered the young man the shoes off his own feet with only minutes to spare before the ceremony began.
The Double Standards Must End
Whether honoring a lost loved one, expressing pride in one’s heritage, or misinterpreting an arbitrary rule, all three of these students were in violation of their schools’ graduation dress code. Yet, only two were humiliated on one of the most important nights of their lives.
Students like Ever and Daverius are not unfortunate outliers. They are part of a system that punishes Black and brown students at significantly higher rates than their white peers.
The school-to-prison pipeline is one result. According to the ACLU, “There are more adult African Americans under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850.” Furthermore, studies have shown that Black and brown students’ academic achievement is hampered significantly by this cycle.
These punishments begin as early as preschool and don’t even end at graduation.
This can’t stand. Revolutionize education and treat all students like human beings.