Opinion

Unruly graduations

Schools must lay down some rules about proper conduct during graduation ceremonies. But school officials also need to keep in mind that this is a celebration, not a funeral.

Somewhere, there is a happy medium between exalting the achievement of graduates and stepping on the toes of those who have not yet crossed the stage. The situation demands decorum but not so much that it spoils the fun.

But if there is a happy medium, local schools apparently haven't found it yet. The incident at the 2007 Fort Mill High School graduation last month is a good example.

Three young men who attended the ceremony at the Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill were arrested for unruly behavior by Rock Hill police. The official report states that the three men stood up and cheered during the ceremony, walked to the concourse and yelled again, causing a disruption, after which they were arrested.

The men don't dispute much of that. They admit cheering once when the brother of one of the men crossed the stage, but not twice as the report stated. They also admit they knew beforehand that what they did was prohibited. But they say they didn't count on being arrested.

They also question whether enforcement was uniform. Others in the audience reportedly cheered for a graduate and then left the building voluntarily or were escorted out by police. No one else was arrested.

If, in fact, others who disrupted the event were allowed to leave without being charged or arrested, it seems unfair to single out the three men. That, however, now will be decided in court.

As for the policy, school officials have good reasons for asking people not to cheer individual graduates. The cheering often drowns out the announcement of the next graduate in line.

The school districts also are fighting to reverse a trend of unruly behavior at graduations. It wasn't long ago that families brought air horns to the ceremonies to salute their favorite grad. And spectators often would show up dressed more appropriately for the beach than a graduation. That prompted school officials to enact dress codes.

Ideally, everyone would be considerate of everyone else, and we wouldn't have this problem. Unfortunately, that isn't the case.

But we worry that enforcement of the rules could go overboard, draining all the sense of joy out of the graduation. For many students, this will be the last graduation ceremony they attend. And many of them may be the first generation of their families to receive a diploma. In other words, this is a very big deal for them.

We read about five students in Illinois who were denied diplomas (although they did graduate) and were barred from a graduation party because their friends and family cheered too loudly at the graduation ceremonies. It seems patently unfair to punish the students for the behavior of others in the audience.

But that is an example of how mixed up this important occasion can get. We hope someday that schools, students, families, friends and cops can work it out and find that happy medium.

But we aren't holding our breath.

School officials are struggling to balance need for order with sense of celebration.

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