Friday, August 14, 2020
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Blue ribbons for Grace

Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer reminds us today that Grace McComas, who died on Easter Sunday two years ago after incessant cyberbullying, would be graduating this spring. Her friends at Glenelg High School in Howard County, Md., want to honor her memory at their graduation ceremony by wearing a blue ribbon on their gowns, but school officials have told them they can’t.

Normally I wouldn’t take sides in a situation like this, but for two important facts:

  1. Grace contributed to Maryland’s history, as her suicide prompted Maryland lawmakers to enact significant cyberbullying legislation that protects young people from undeserved harm.
  2. The line by school officials—that school rules allow only academic honors to be worn on the cap or gown during graduation ceremonies—is inconsistent with documents published by the school district and made available to students or to the public.

School officials have suggested the alternative for students of wearing a blue bracelet, which would not be attached to the cap or gown, but Grace’s good friends have been told not to distribute any bracelets on school property.

It just seems like one insult after another, and there’s really no need to provoke bad feelings toward the schools, which are already under enough duress.

“[Grace] was hurt so much by that school, and now it seems like they are trying to dismiss her very existence,” the Sun quoted Christine McComas, Grace’s mom, as saying.

Other Resources

  • An extensive reading list from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • Fact sheet from the American Association of Suicidology

According to AAS, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24, and about 9 percent of high school students have made a suicide attempt in the past 12 months.

In 2012, a high school in Minnesota made the decision not to provide a memorial page in the school’s yearbook for a student who had committed suicide, NBC News reported. This caused a bit of a scandal.

In a similar case in New Hampshire, school officials said they followed district protocol and did agree to acknowledge a student who had committed suicide in the yearbook, but they “did not want to glorify a death by suicide” by making the memorial an entire page in the yearbook, the superintendent was quoted as saying.

Quoting now from page 38 of After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Graduation … If there is a tradition of including a tribute to deceased students who would have graduated with the class, students who have died by suicide should likewise be included. For example, schools may wish to include a brief statement acknowledging and naming those students from the graduating class who have died. Final decisions about what to include in such tributes should be made by an adult.

History has shown that memorials are appropriate at graduations, but the decision ultimately belongs with adults who run the schools. A balance must be found, and the adults who know the kids at Glenelg High School best are, I think, the people who need to decide how an appropriate tribute can be given that will take into account the difference between honoring Grace’s life and glorifying suicide. They will be responsible for making sure students get the right message.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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  1. In a statement on his website, Delegate Jon S Cardin, who is running for attorney general and was the primary sponsor of Grace’s law as it made its way through the Maryland General Assembly last year, wrote the following message regarding this case:

    Kudos to Susan Reimer on her commentary (Blue Ribbons for Grace March 26) highlighting the courage and compassion of Grace McComas’ classmates in the face of administrative obstacles. Grace’s friends, who are seeking to honor and celebrate the life of Grace during what should have been her graduation, have realized that cyberbullying is not a trivial issue. It is a serious, 21st century problem our young people are struggling with. Grace’s classmates should be honored for bringing this issue to the fore while also celebrating Grace’s life. As the honored sponsor of Grace’s Law, I am touched by students using their time and energy to do something so positive and proactive in a world where pressures often push them in the other direction. I too hope Glenelg’s administration will reconsider its decision and allow “blue ribbons for Grace at graduation.”

    Delegate Jon S. Cardin

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