In what is one of the most bizarre turns in our Nation's growing suppression of normal human expression, last Friday night Justin Denny, a graduating senior at Bonny Eagle High School, was denied his diploma for engaging in 'highly inappropriate' behavior—he blew a kiss to his mother as he walked across the stage to receive his diploma. To make matters worse, he 'pointed to one of his friends' in a friendly gesture. Apparently, this behavior was egregious enough to move school superintendent Suzanne Lukas to send him back to his seat without his diploma.
In the short exchange on stage, Lukas asked Denny why he thought he deserved his diploma, to which he replied "Because I worked hard and I earned it." Lukas told him "no, go take your seat" and sent him back off the stage empty-handed because of his 'misbehavior.'
His mother was livid. In an interview with WMTW television in Maine, she retorted that "blowing a kiss to your mother is not misbehavior." She is demanding an apology from Lukas as well as her son's high school diploma.
As I See It…
On the surface, this just seems like an absurd situation: A kid being denied his diploma for simply blowing a kiss to his mother. But what is particularly disturbing about this case is the willful humiliation of him in front of the entire community. Even if his behavior was inappropriate while walking across the stage, does that warrant him being denied his diploma in such a demeaning and shaming way? Or even being denied his diploma at all?
That the superintendent displayed a profound degree of insensitivity and hostility toward this kid is beyond question. Even more disturbing is that she felt fully justified in behaving this way. In a meeting following this debacle, Lukas felt that she was just 'enforcing the rules.' "If a student doesn't adhere to the expectations, then the consequences are clearly spelled out," she stated.
As I see it, this is just one example in a growing movement of dehumanization in our country where any behavior that deviates from a militaristic mechanized efficiency is somehow seen as a threat to our social fabric. Expressions of enthusiasm and fun, while they can make graduation ceremonies more chaotic, should be accepted as part of the excitement of making the transition from childhood to adulthood. After all, graduation ceremonies are for the kids, not the superintendent. It is their day and they have earned the right to blow a kiss to their mother if they choose.