Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Time To Play, A Time To Shut Up

Most high school graduation ceremonies are behind us now but they're still fuming over the one held Friday in the Bonny Eagle school district in Portland, Maine. Diplomas for two graduates were upheld because of excessive celebration in the eyes of the school superintendent.

One grad blew kisses to his mother and the other accused of inflating and releasing a rubber duck and bouncing beach balls. The parents of both graduates were not amused, not by the antics of their sons but by what they considered Draconian methods of Supt. Suzanne Lukas.

Let me digress for a moment of full disclosure. I, too, was denied my diploma on graduation day and can relate to what a big deal that is to an 18-year-old. More on that later.

What we have here, folks, is three versions of what constitutes proper decorum for a high school graduation exercise. The grads say there were expressing jubilation at a milestone in their lives. The school officials say the grads signed a rules of conduct pledge prior to the ceremonies, and the parents...well, let's hear what they had to say.

Mary Denney, said her son's showboating didn't break any rules. She told WMTW-TV "a kiss to your mom is not misbehavior." She is seeking an apology — and a diploma for her son, Justin.

The mother of Tyler Lamy, the only one ejected from the graduation exercises for his involvement with the beach balls, said she picked up her son's diploma Monday.

Now, let's hear from a Portland Press Herald reporter who attended the graduation.

The trouble started after students sitting on stage began bouncing beach balls and sending a giant inflatable rubber ducky into the air. A uniformed Cumberland County sheriff's deputy, who was attending as the school's resource officer, moved one student away from his classmates and then escorted a second senior – Lamy – out of the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Superintendent Suzanne Lukas warned students to stop with the fun and games, but they didn't. Lukas later refused to give a diploma to at least one senior after he had blown a kiss and bowed to the audience, according to parents and students.

Throughout the ceremony, audience members booed and heckled Lukas, some even shouting profanities, parents and students said.

Portland police were even called to the civic center at about 8:30 to provide potential backup for the sheriff's deputy, said Capt. Vern Malloch. A city officer responded, but left within 10 minutes, Malloch said.

For days afterward, angry parents called and e-mailed Lukas and members of the school board. Some said the superintendent overreacted and turned the ceremony into "a fiasco."

Hopkins said feedback about the graduation crackdown has been mixed.

"Some of it's positive. Some of it's negative. It's all about people and what their expectations are at graduation," he said. "Do we want graduation to be a circus or do we want to it to be a refined event?"

Some parents said they went to the school board meeting Monday to complain about Lukas' actions, but were not offered an opportunity to speak. Hopkins said everybody will get a chance to speak this time. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Bonny Eagle Middle School cafeteria in Standish...

"Your entire family's there to watch you graduate and be so proud. My great-grandmother is 96 years old and she was there," Lamy said. "It's one of those things you can't do over. You can only do it once."

Lamy said he was sitting one row behind a student who inflated a beach ball and tossed it into the air. "We thought that was great. It's a celebration," he said. "I didn't even get a chance to touch the beach ball." A student sitting next to Lamy, Decker Leonard, said Lamy didn't appear to have anything to do with the beach balls.

I can attest from personal experience young Denney and Lamy will remember the incident the rest of their lives. In my case, I wasn't being rowdy. Our school ran on a student honor system and one benefit was sitting wherever you wanted in class. For the final exam, our driver's ed teacher insisted on assigned seating. I balked, telling the teacher I never cheated nor would I begin in his crummy classroom and if he didn't like it he could take the DMV manual and shove it up his orifice where the sun don't shine. The school allowed me to attend the ceremonies but I wouldn't receive the diploma until I took and passed the driver's ed test the following Monday. I missed the post-graduation beer keg party as a result.

My advise to the Bonny Eagle graduation class and all others is that one thing you must learn in school is to play by the rules and that there is a time and place for about anything. If you doubt my wisdom, try challenging your drill instructor, run a red light in view of a police car or fail to file your income tax returns.

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