Abuse of Power in the Education System

Recently, I came across this story about a student at Bonny Eagle high school in Maine being denied his diploma for taking a bow and blowing a kiss to his family. See, apparently the superintendent, Suzanne Lukas, was mad about students bringing beach balls to the ceremony, something that is not uncommon, though typically high school administrations frown on this kind of celebration. After the superintendent snapped at students over the beach balls and deputies confiscated them, Justin Denney approached the stage to receive his diploma. From the article linked above, this is what happened then, as well as Justin’s and his mother’s take on it that explains in a little more detail:

While in his seat or waiting in line for his diploma, Justin Denney never touched a beach ball. After his name was called, he took a bow, blew a kiss to his family and pointed to friends, but he didn’t get his diploma, leaving a whole family in disbelief.

“I said, ‘What did she ask you?’ And, he goes, ‘She said, ‘There’s no fooling around up here,” and he just kind of looked at her because he wasn’t fooling around. He didn’t consider that fooling around or misbehaving in any sense of the word, and she goes, ‘Why do you feel you deserve your diploma?’ He goes, ‘Because I worked hard and I earned it,’ and she goes, ‘No go take your seat,’” Mary Denney said.

The school system, naturally, hadn’t returned comment by the time the piece was written.

So, we have a case where a superintendent has created a bogus reason to not give a student his diploma because she was in a bad mood. Moreover, she was in a bad mood over something that happens at every graduation I’ve ever been to, and no one ever complains about it. She needs to take the stick out of her rear end, and let people celebrate their accomplishments. At my university graduation, they threw the beach balls back to us. Because they wanted us to celebrate, instead of trying to enforce some kind of dire solemnity on the event that isn’t needed. You’d think if anyone were going to try to make it formal, it would be a university, but they seem to be way more relaxed.

The school board will be discussing graduation ceremonies next Wednesday. I have a suggestion for them: keep it simple. Get rid of the code of conduct, because obviously, their superintendent can’t interpret it in a rational manner. Just tell students that they will be ejected if they’re disruptive, and be clear on what disruptive is. Celebration is not disruptive. Disruptive is when the ceremony can’t proceed due to the behavior of a student or group of students. And even then, mildly disruptive behavior that serves a purpose shouldn’t be punished either.

For instance, at my graduation, I had a friend who organized a performance of a song he wrote (of the screaming variety) with the class officers who would be speaking. While our principal did try to convince him not to do it, in the end she just told him not to do anything he’d regret and let him go on. Sure, it was a little disruptive, but you know what? It added a little pizzazz to the ceremony and gave it a little something original and unplanned, and we’ll all remember that.

You know why this worked out? Our principal had some common sense and didn’t feel a need to abuse her authority. Meanwhile, the superintendent of Bonny Eagle’s system seems to lack this ability to use reason and use her authority wisely when things don’t go exactly as she wants them to. She needs some training in how to deal with students, and when to let things go.

Justin will receive his diploma. He’d better receive a public apology from the superintendent as well. I’d also like to see her explain how she will deal with this in the future so other students don’t have deal with what Justin had to.

Finally, I want this to serve as an example to all schools of how not to deal with graduations. Being an overbearing powermonger isn’t the way to do it. Graduation is a celebration for the graduating students. So let them enjoy themselves, and stop trying to assert yourself as the controlling power.

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