As millions of high school seniors graduate this spring, many are being reminded to hold their applause until the end of the ceremony in order not to disrupt the proceedings. It has been my experience at dozens of graduations I’ve attended that this rule isn’t taken seriously.
HOLIDAY, Fla. (May 30)—Anclote High School Graduation 2015 (Pasco County Schools via Flickr Creative Commons)
But the superintendent of schools in the Senatobia Municipal School District in Mississippi actually called the cops on students who cheered in the middle of the proceedings and had three of them arrested on misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace, the New York Times reports. Conviction could send them to jail for up to six months and fine them up to $500.
The district decided to drop the charges, though. “Our purpose in filing the complaints was not to place a hardship of any kind on the individual who disrupted the ceremony, but to protect the rights of the class of 2015 and future [Senatobia High School] graduating classes,” the paper quoted schools superintendent, Jay Foster, as saying in a handwritten filing in one of the cases. “Therefore, at this time, we respectfully withdraw the complaint against this individual.”
Two of the three students appeared in court to answer other charges, but Mr Foster’s somewhat Draconian effort to maintain order at the ceremony was still viewed by people outside the small town, which lies about an hour’s drive south of Memphis, in a negative light. “Citizens should be able to enjoy the right of free speech, especially at a congratulatory event like a high school graduation,” Charles Irvin, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, was quoted as saying about the arrests. He called Mr Foster’s decision “an unnecessary criminal response to these kinds of actions.”
However, in the town, population about 8,000, the reaction has been mostly positive. “They should have kept the charges,” a local florist was quoted as saying. “If they tell you not to do something and you go in there and you do it, something needs to be done. To drop the charges, that’s just opening the door for next year. What’s next year going to bring? They chickened out, more or less.”
A conviction would have been difficult here. Free speech generally prohibits people from yelling fire in a crowded theater, but I’m pretty sure they’re allowed to clap at graduation ceremonies, even before the end of the ceremony, even if they’ve been asked politely not to do so.
There’s a huge difference between rules and laws. What we have here is the breaking of a rule, and the involvement of police and the courts, regardless of what people hypothesize might happen next year, is wrong. If a proud mother, father, aunt, or fellow classmate wants to clap and cheer when a loved one’s name is called and he or she walks across the stage, we can’t allow law enforcement to prevent them from clapping and cheering.
Graduation is a proud moment for many students and their friends and families, lived only once from high school. Spontaneous reactions should not be squelched by the force of law. So we say, in defiance of this ridiculous request to hold applause, go ahead and disrupt those graduation ceremonies if that’s what celebrating at your seat will do. Let all your kids know how happy you are to be there and to see them graduating. So many of their peers never get the chance.