Virginia Teen Denied Diploma for Wearing Sneakers to Graduation

image credit: dresden shumaker
image credit: dresden shumaker

I have huge feet. Seriously, they are absolutely bigger than your feet. And one of my fears on any given day is falling over my feet. I also frequently lament how hard it is to find footwear in my size. When I recently heard about a girl who doesn’t do heels and opted to wear a new pair of black sneakers during her high school graduation, I absolutely got it.

What I don’t get is what happened to her when she wore them.

Rachel, the 17-year-old who attended Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, VA, told Jezebel:

I’m a self-conscious person. We have our graduation at a college, it’s a big stage. You walk in front of everyone. I can’t walk in heels and all my flats are poor quality and I would get blisters. So I was like, why not wear something I feel comfortable in?”

The school did issue an email notice to students letting them know, “No ‘casual shoes’, no sandals, and skirts or dresses for the women, plus close-cropped hair for the men.”

Rachel, who told Jezebel that some administrators were often lax with enforcing the dress code, didn’t think her choice in footwear would even be an issue since everyone would have on robes. And she passed inspection before her class took to the stage.

It was after the ceremony that Rachel learned the dress code actually WAS enforced. For her.

When she went to trade the prop diploma all students received during  the graduation ceremony for her real diploma, she was informed by the assistant principal, Eileen Hanley, “You’re not getting your diploma. You know you shouldn’t have worn those shoes.”

*Jaw drop*

Rachel has already been accepted to college and had the credits to graduate from her high school with honors, but in order for her to get her diploma, the school is requiring her to serve detention over the summer.

Rachel’s mother says that’s not going to happen. “Nope. She’s done. They’ll get her in there and, if I’m not around, they’re going to berate her.”

The school has now said they are going to hold on to Rachel’s transcripts until she completes detention.

I can not make much sense out of this incident. Yes, I understand that schools have rules and policies. Yes, I get that Rachel pushed the line on this (or really, did she?). But what is the school teaching her with their behavior? What is their policy on forgiveness and acceptance?

I feel for Rachel a lot because I know it didn’t have to end up like this. I know because I went through my own graduation footwear fiasco and it had an entirely different outcome.

Two weeks before my class was going to graduate high school we were issued “reminders” about what we should wear under our robes. The boys were instructed to wear nice slacks and shirts with a collar. Girls were told to wear skirts or dresses. (When pressed, they said nice slacks would be fine too.) Boys were to wear brown or black dress shoes and girls were to wear white dress shoes.

When I read the bit about the shoes, I went into a panic. What?! White dress shoes?!! Hardly any of my fellow classmates had white shoes, so off they went to the shoe store and bought them. The size of my feet didn’t allow for such a shopping trip. I couldn’t even find white men’s dress shoes.

I talked to my school principal and explained my situation. She was very understanding and offered up this compromise, “Wear the nicest shoes you have!”

I am betting she imagined the nicest shoes I owned would be some fancy dress shoes, just not in white. She was wrong. My nicest shoes were my plaid Doc Marten boots.

The day of graduation all of the girls lined up in our robes for a quick “inspection” before we went into the theater. I got a bit of push-back about my shoes, but I assured the person lining us up I was authorized to wear them.

When I walked across the stage my plaid boots ROCKED. My principal looked down and laughed and when she handed me my diploma, she smiled and said, “Of course!”

I look back at my graduation day, and specifically the boot moment, as an awesome memory of being listened to and supported. I was about to go out into the world and more than anything I needed that foundation of encouragement. I needed to know that adults in my life were going to root for and cheer for me. It was also great that in a moment where I was 100% true to myself, I was embraced and not turned away or shunned.

If only Rachel had been given the same gift.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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