But for all three students, their plans were thwarted by school officials who denied them their diplomas and blocked the high school graduates from crossing the stage. Each school said the graduates were violating a school policy and refused to make an exception even as their families watched from the audience. In Peters’ case, a teacher, John Butler, traded shoes with him so he could walk.
“We know that in order for Ever (Lopez) and any other student of color to have gotten to this point, that means that they had to face and beat every obstacle on the way,” Morales said. “And I think it’s something that historically and systematically, White students have not had to experience in the same way.”
The district, however, defended its policy and said in a statement that students were “encouraged to express their identity by decorating their mortar boards. A number of students followed the protocol and had the Mexican flag and other representations appropriately displayed during the ceremony.”
Lopez, a first-generation high school graduate was allowed to pick up his diploma earlier this week at Asheboro High School. He said despite being denied his diploma at the ceremony, he has no regrets.
His cousin, Adolfo Hurtado, told CNN that “the Mexican flag wasn’t worn as a political statement, rather a symbolic gesture in appreciation to those who worked hard to give him a life he would be proud of.”
‘Policing Black joy’
Andrews said schools failing to understand the behaviors of students of color is a “function of White supremacy.”
“It’s an example of policing Black joy or policing the joy of students of color,” Andrews said. “There is this message that there is a certain way to celebrate, there’s a certain way to dress and if you don’t align with that then you’re penalized. That way is always steeped in White cultural norms.”
Peters said he was embarrassed that he had to wear Butler’s shoes — which were two sizes too big — when he crossed the stage.
He said the students were required to wear dark-colored dress shoes and not allowed to wear slippers, athletic shoes, or open-toe shoes. He thought his shoes matched the requirements.
Butler said he didn’t think it was fair that the school would punish Peters over his shoes.
“You don’t stop a kid from receiving his high school diploma, already the most important moment of their life to that point, you don’t take that away for something as small as shoes — and that’s exactly what was going to happen,” Butler said.
Kristina Button, a home schoolteacher, said this is “policing Black people’s accomplishments, and we have to stop doing it.”
Button said graduation is significant for many Black and brown families because they have faced oppression and poverty for so many generations.
Schools, she said, need to do away with rules that suppress how people of color celebrate their identity, their culture and beating the odds.
“It kind of squashes their self-esteem and the confidence that one, builds up,” Button said. “And I think there’s a level of trauma to that. If you understand the history of this country, you know, that it has everything to do with race.”
Oliver Telusma, who was among the University of Florida graduates kicked off stage in 2018, said he was shocked that he and his peers were treated that way. Telusma, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., said it’s common for Black fraternity members to do a short stroll, or dance, to honor their culture as they cross the stage.
He said it’s “disappointing” to hear that high schools are punishing Black and Latino graduates at their commencements.
“It reflects the same type of excessive policing (from law enforcement) that Black people experience,” said Telusma, who graduated from law school this year.
Graduate escorted off stage in Texas
The school district, Southwest ISD, said in a statement that its graduation protocols prohibit “large disruptions such as props, flags, somersaults, cartwheels, or other actions.” The district said it allows students to display their individuality by decorating their graduation caps.
“I also did it for every parent out there who’s an immigrant and comes here to the United States to have a better life, not only for themselves but for their kids and the future grand kids and everybody else, so they can live the dream, the American dream,” Saucedo said.