Five students were denied their diplomas because friends and family cheered too enthusiastically when they graduated from the high school in Galesburg, Illinois. I’m not making this up!

Here’s the story:

It’s not uncommon for high schools to ask the audience to hold applause until the end so the ceremony doesn’t go on too long. And often family members are advised of this ahead of time to help things along. But Galesburg actually sent notices saying students could be denied their diplomas if this policy was violated. And in the case of five students – four black and one Hispanic – the school followed through with its threat.

It is strange that only people of color were singled out even though others received applause too. But administrators swear race had nothing to do with it and add that these were simply the most disruptive outbursts. Hmmm…why do I have trouble believing that? Funny how it had to be five and not six or ten or all students with disruptive family. Wonder how they drew the precise line?

But ok…I’ll leave it at that and let other blogs dig further into that particular issue. What I want to talk about is EDUCATION.

After all their hard work and at a time of celebration, these students are being publicly chastised for something their friends and family did – namely showing how proud they are and letting their feelings be known. Those who cheered and applauded were merely exercising their right of free speech in a display of family pride. But if you need to single out anyone, then send those “shameful” parents to community service and let the kids graduate. Why should these students be punished?

What message is the school leaving the kids with? Are they sending them off to face the world with the full backing of their educational institution behind them and a message of hope and encouragement? No. They’re leaving them with this ridiculous bad taste in their mouths at a time when they should be dreaming about all that the future holds.

What the heck kind of lesson is the school imparting? That people shouldn’t be free to express their joy and if they do someone ELSE deserves to be punished? That is so topsy-turvy and against everything a good educator should stand for I can’t believe Galesburg admin isn’t hiding in shame. Instead they say it’s about discipline. At a celebratory ceremony marking the beginning of an exciting new phase in a young person’s life? That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

A school is responsible until the last moment for building up a student’s skills, knowledge, curiosity, resourcefulness, and most of all confidence in who they are as people. Denying five students their diplomas for the sinful act of parental enthusiasm is totally out of proportion with rational behavior and an egregious failure of responsibility toward all the students.

Tell them you are proud of them. Tell them you support them. Tell them you honor them. And tell them that the best policies are those that are carefully crafted to serve their purpose – but also flexible enough to serve the good of all. A tree that does not bend in the wind will break.

The only thing Galesburg High administrators proved is that they don’t understand the basics of what good education is all about. And they sure don’t understand that there are times when bending – even just a little – can be a show of wisdom and strength.