Congratulations grads — and follow the rules

Congratulations to all of our high school graduates. Don’t give up on your dreams. Be all that you can be. You can achieve anything you set your mind to. Blah, blah, blah.

By George A. Brown, editor

Congratulations to all of our high school graduates. Don’t give up on your dreams. Be all that you can be. You can achieve anything you set your mind to. Blah, blah, blah.

You’ll hear all the platitudes and free advice from relatives, employers and teachers over the next month or so. You don’t need to hear it from me as well. You made it through high school with a diploma and your sanity. Believe me, that’s an accomplishment.

My high school, Napanee District Secondary School, good ol’ NDSS, was its own society within the community. We had more than 1,700 students and more than 100 faculty and support staff. The town’s population of 5,000 probably grew by 20 per cent when the bell rang.

We had gay students and gay teachers; students who came to class after lunch with a buzz on and teachers who kept a bottle in their desk drawer; we had students who fought at the bike rack after school and teachers who beat their wives when they got home; we had a teacher marry one of his students and more than a few young men who lusted after teachers. It was Peyton Place. It was life.

I don’t imagine it’s a lot different today — text messages replacing notes passed in class perhaps.

Since I graduated more than 30 years ago, I have attended more than my fair share of high school graduations — probably more than 50, in a variety of schools in central Alberta. High school graduation ceremonies are like weddings and funerals, — if you ain’t in ’em, they ain’t interesting.

But every spring in a high school somewhere in Canada or the United States, some student or some school principal is going out of his way to make a personal statement at graduation.

The incident that made the news in Canada last week concerns a student from the southern Alberta town of Raymond who wants to honour his Scottish heritage and wear a kilt to his Grade 12 grad. Hamish Jacobs asked his principal for permission to wear the kilt under his gown. His request was denied because school policy is that all boys are to wear dress pants, dress shoes and a collared shirt when they cross the stage to accept their diploma.

What we don’t know about young Hamish is whether he has a strong attachment to his heritage or whether he saw an opportunity to flout the rules and thumb his nose at the The Man, or whatever kids call Authority Figures today. Did Hamish wear his kilt on Robbie Burns Day or on St. Andrew’s Day? If he didn’t, I think he should shut his piehole, as his people might say.

I’ve seen a lot of students attempting to “assert their individuality” at their high school graduation and a lot of parents trying not to look embarrassed as their childish grad strutted across the stage wearing bare legs and sandals, or blue jeans tucked inside cowboy boots, or sporting freshly dyed hair, batting balloons or beach balls around, or hooting, fist-pumping or offering other gangsta-style props to the principal and school trustees.

Hamish can thank them for the kilt prohibition.

This is kilt konundrum is rather tame when you compare it to some of the prom/grad issues we usually hear about in the spring. Last year it was the grad denied his diploma because he blew a kiss to his mother in the audience, thereby breaking the code of conduct against grandstanding on the stage.

There’s always a story about a gay student who wants to dress in accordance with his or her sexual orientation and not follow the prescribed dress code. This may be tied to the story of a gay student who is denied a same-sex escort for the prom.

In 1979, my class valedictorian was gay. No one cared.

We usually hear of a pregnant teen or teen mom who is not allowed to attend the ceremony and receive her diploma with her classmates. Being a pregnant teen in high school would be tough enough and earning all your credits quite an achievement. The diploma is well deserved. If she had an abortion would she have been allowed to receive her diploma during the ceremony?

I’m not sure how this kerfuffle was resolved: A Native American in South Dakota was planning to take his fight to wear his traditional Lakota dress to graduation all the way to federal court. His high school was denying his request to wear ceremonial headdress when he was to receive his diploma on stage May 22. He claimed the school’s rules impeded his First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion. It’s a matter of tradition versus assimilation.

Maybe Hamish should keep an eye south of the border.

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