Crime and punishment in South Carolina


When I was a high school senior, word came down that we would not be allowed to throw our caps in celebration at the graduation ceremony. This, of course, sent ripples of discontent through the class, and I remember one teacher in particular making the point that graduation was not about us as students. We should stop being so selfish as to think the presentation of our diplomas had anything to do with us.

And while years of perspective would still, probably, call bullshit on that had I bothered to think about it ‘twixt then and now, there is, in the end, a certain merit to the proposition. After all, what did we care? We just walked across the stage, took a blank diploma case, and got a handshake and a hug from a couple of school officials while our parents snapped pictures or, in some cases, wept with joy and relief. And then, a couple weeks later, the school would send us somebody else’s diploma.

Really.

You know, it was just one of those things.

An Associated Press report out of South Carolina has me wondering why schools bother with graduation ceremonies anymore:

Six people at Fort Mill High School’s graduation were charged Saturday and a seventh at the graduation for York Comprehensive High School was charged Friday with disorderly conduct, authorities said. Police said the seven yelled after students’ names were called.

“I just thought they were going to escort me out,” Jonathan Orr told The Herald of Rock Hill, about 70 miles north of Columbia. “I had no idea they were going to put handcuffs on me and take me to jail.”

Orr, 21, spent two hours in jail after he was arrested when he yelled for his cousin at York’s commencement at the Winthrop University Coliseum.

Rock Hill police began patrolling commencements several years ago at the request of school districts who complained of increasing disruption. Those attending commencements are told they can be prosecuted for bad behavior and letters are sent home with students, said Rock Hill police spokesman Lt. Jerry Waldrop.

All the cases, except for one that includes a resisting-arrest charge, will be handled in city court and are punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Mr. Orr suggested that for some of the people in attendance, “it might be the only member of their family to graduate high school, and it was like a funeral in there”. Another man, William Massey, claimed he merely “clapped and gave a little whoop” for his fiancee, and pointed out that not everyone who cheered was arrested.

It would seem that, contrary to my lit teacher’s explanation seventeen years ago, school officials in South Carolina are making the ceremony about the students. Fort Mill Principal Dee Christopher explained, “We think it’s important for every graduate’s name to be heard and for every person in the arena to be able to see that student cross the stage.”

Christopher also said that the school did not ask specifically that offenders be arrested. In the end, though, it might be the only recourse. The AP report includes a note that five students in Illinois were denied diplomas last year because friends or family members cheered for them during the graduation ceremony. The students were finally given their diplomas after completing eight hours of public service for the school district.

How about this for a solution? Scrap the graduation ceremony. If it’s so much trouble, why bother? Maybe in Rock Hill, with an estimated population just over 61,600, law enforcement has enough spare time and resources to arrest and prosecute people for cheering at a high school graduation, but it still seems ridiculous.

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