Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Controlling Graduation Excitement Tough Task; with Recent Arrests of 17 for Outbursts at Ceremonies, School Leaders, Police Talk about Balancing Emotions and Order

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Controlling Graduation Excitement Tough Task; with Recent Arrests of 17 for Outbursts at Ceremonies, School Leaders, Police Talk about Balancing Emotions and Order

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Macdonald, The Times-Union

Is it a case of over-exuberant pride or bad manners?

When friends and family vocally cheer, loudly applaud or cry out a graduate's name, despite being asked not to do so, are they disruptive or simply expressing their joy?

Is it time that the graduation ceremony becomes a graduation celebration?

Last week's arrest of 15 people at the Terry Parker High School graduation and two during Paxon's graduation for outbursts during the diploma portion of the ceremony begs the question if such outbursts can be avoided. They are nothing new. Every graduation it seems has a family or two that vocally expresses their joy. It has been going on for years.

Principals and graduation organizing committees know this and print warnings in letters to parents and families prior to the event. It's customary at the ceremony for the senior class president to again ask that families not become raucous. But it still happens.

The fact it did and arrests resulted upsets Paige French, Terry Parker High principal.

"The seniors behaved so beautifully," she said. "This is all people will remember about it. It's unfair to the seniors."

During the ceremony, French said she was unaware of any arrests. Police escorted offending persons out without interrupting the ceremony, French said.

The next night, Ribault High held its graduation without arrests, just as Principal Lawrence Dennis had predicted at the graduation rehearsals earlier in the day.

"It is about decorum. We have shared information with students to tell parents and loved ones what is expected of them," he said. "This is about the Class of 2004, not about individuals."

Restricting demonstrations is necessary to keep the ceremony on a timely pace. If every family applauded it would be hard to maintain order, said Gloria Lockley, general director of students services for the Duval County school system.

"Each year there is an ongoing concern that parents are going to get to hear their child's name. The more the noise level goes up, you lose that [quiet] portion of it. [Once it starts] it is hard for people to stop," Lockley said.

Frank Mackesy, director of patrol and enforcement for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, said he will evaluate the policy of making arrests at graduations.

"I would have preferred that the people that ended up being arrested had received a citation as opposed to being put in jail," he said, adding it was the supervisor's call whether to arrest the offenders. "The people who were arrested at the Parker graduation were the worst of the worst."

The graduation ceremony as we know it is about 100 years old. The traditional theme Pomp and Circumstance was written by Sir Edward Elgar in 1901 for King Edward VII's coronation. In 1905, it was played as a recessional when Elgar was given an honorary degree from Yale University. …

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