Fort Mill Times

Dys: Latest high school graduation arrest shows graduation cheer ban should end

Nobody knows better than wheelchair-bound Allen Brandon the frustration apparently felt by a 20-year-old Fort Mill guy Friday when one cheer for a brother, a single outburst of love and pride at a high school graduation, ended with the 20-year-old in handcuffs.

Brandon was arrested in 2008 – and kicked out in 2011 – for cheering for his two daughters at York County high school graduations. He cheered to honor the dying wish of his cancer-stricken wife. In 2008 he yelled, “Go Amanda!” In 2011 he screamed, “Go Samantha!”

Then he was booted. The first time he was taken to jail.

“I never regretted it for a second,” Brandon said Wednesday. “It was a stupid rule then and it is a stupid rule now.”

In 2008, eight people, Brandon among them, were arrested for cheering at graduations in York County. All had to beg for forgiveness and apologize in writing to prosecutors and a judge in order for the charges to be dropped. Brandon wrote his apology – for the crime of loving his daughter – from a hospital room after almost dying in a motorcycle wreck.

Now in 2014, York County alone again is rightfully laughed at as the place in America where loved ones so proud of graduates get kicked out, and possibly arrested.

Last week, police charged the Fort Mill man with resisting police and trespassing. Police say he yelled during Fort Mill High School’s graduation Friday afternoon, refused to comply with police commands, and jerked away from an officer. Police say after the man yelled, he was told he had to leave but refused. He was then charged.

The man denied that he yelled and that he refused to leave.

Nobody was arrested in Goose Creek, near Charleston, last week when a graduating student on stage was interrupted by a loving father returning from military deployment. There were cheers. There were tears. Joy had no handcuffs.

All four York County school districts, their superintendents, school boards and principals band together each graduation season to decree there shall be no cheering for each child as the name is read and the kid walks across the stage to get a diploma. All applause must be held for the end, as if graduation should be so boring as to cause a coma. These adults who work for the schools apparently think graduation is about them.

It’s as if the school officials are running commuter trains that must run on time instead of ceremonies for students and family to scream in support of achievement.

Graduation means the students did the work and passed the exams. The time to sit quiet is over.

One of my three kids graduated Friday night from another school and I was forced to sit there, again, like a department store dummy and not cheer.

The time is right to end the ban on cheering once and for all, Brandon said.

“A cheer for a kid graduating, clapping, a shout out, honors the hard work of that child through 13 years of school,” Brandon said. “High school graduation is a huge accomplishment.”

Winthrop University’s graduation – in the same Winthrop Coliseum with around the same number of students as area high schools – allows cheers for each name and student. The world does not end with those cheers. The ceremony does not take a week. The ceremony does not turn ugly or lose its dignity.

“College graduations at Winthrop prove to these high schools that cheering for each student as their name is read can be done respectfully and without any other child’s name not being able to be heard after that,” Brandon said. “After the quick cheer, the next name is read. It takes a couple of seconds.”

Using three seconds of cheering or clapping for an average of 400 students in a graduating class, a ceremony would only be 20 minutes longer.

Brandon does not now, and did not when he was arrested and ejected, blame the Rock Hill Police Department officers hired to work graduations. After 2008’s arrest debacle, the policy was changed to making anyone who cheers leave the building. Any alleged loudness, rudeness, or confrontation with police afterward gets the iron around the wrists.

The school districts set the no clapping, no cheering, no fun policy, and the cops enforce it.

“The school districts can fix this by letting people cheer,” Brandon said.

“Cheering isn’t disruption,” he said. “Cheering is gratitude. Cheering is love.”