Two troubling stories, both from Pennsylvania via the Associated Press, that should make our blood boil. They may give their lives for their country, but they can’t wear their uniforms to graduation.
WEXFORD, Pa. — A 17-year-old Marine is upset because a Pittsburgh-area high school won’t let her wear her uniform when she receives her diploma.
Lindsay Starr tells KDKA-TV she wants to wear the uniform because she’s proud of it and the sacrifices other Marines have made for public school students and everybody else in the United States.
But officials at North Allegheny High School say their policy is clear: graduates must wear a cap and gown bearing the school’s colors. School officials say they’ve received similar requests in the past and don’t make exceptions.
KDKA says some teachers and students contacted believe Starr should be able to wear her dress blues.
She graduated early then spent three months in boot camp before graduating. The commencement ceremony is Friday night.
LEESPORT, Pa. — Jordan Marker and Joel Hunsicker had long looked forward to their graduation from Schuylkill Valley High School.
But as their classmates received their diplomas Wednesday night, Marker and Hunsicker watched from the bleachers at the high school stadium.
They said school administrators gave them an ultimatum: take off the black and gold sashes their Army recruiters gave them to symbolize their pending service or don’t walk at graduation.
They chose the latter.
“It’s something we earned and they should have respected this,” Hunsicker said. “I know future graduations with the Army are going to be much more important.”
Two other graduates who joined the Army — Austin Strohl and Alexander Malobicky — made the decision to walk at graduation without the sashes.
They were unavailable for comment.
The district has for years limited graduates to wearing their caps and gowns, with no other accessories. The only exception is National Honor Society students, who can wear their Honor Society sashes around their necks.
“It’s our policy, and we don’t make exceptions,” said Dr. Solomon Lausch, superintendent. “We’re very consistent, and we’re very fair about it.”
Otherwise, the district could have to play referee each year, deciding which students are allowed to wear which garments associated with out-of-school groups, he said.
“We want the focus to be on the commencement, and this (military service) is outside the school curriculum,” he said.
That policy seems unfair to the recruits.
“I should be able to show that I want to honor my country, just like someone else can show that they’re being honored for academic success,” Marker said.
Marker starts basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., on Oct. 18. He plans to be an active-duty tank crewman.
His mother, Christine Reichardt of Leesport, said she also was disappointed by the district’s decision.
“Wearing the stole wouldn’t cause a distraction, so I don’t see the harm in it,” she said before the ceremony.
She understands the policy, but wishes the district had made an exception.
“Joining the military is a noble thing, especially considering the times we’re living in,” she said. “In a year’s time, they (the recruits) are probably going to be putting their lives on the line for their country.”
Hunsicker, who starts basic training at Fort Benning on July 4 and will apply to be an airborne ranger, felt likewise.
“I just want to wear it to show my sacrifice, and to show everyone I’m supporting my country,” he said.
They didn’t cause a scene at the ceremony. They took off their graduation robes, sat in the bleachers with their parents and cheered on their fellow graduates.
While they were disappointed to not walk, both felt they made the right choice.
“The military is all about sacrifice,” Marker said.
The Army’s Harrisburg Recruiting District, which covers Berks and 51 other counties statewide, started issuing the sashes last year, said Bill Irwin of the public affairs office.
Most districts allow graduates to wear them, but others don’t, he said.
“It’s up to them,” he said. “School policies and dress codes are strictly up to the school.”
Sgt. David Woodruff, recruiter at the Fairgrounds Square Mall station, said he is thankful some districts permit graduates to wear the sashes, but has no issue with those that don’t.
“It’s a free country, and everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he said.
Commencement is the recruits’ only opportunity to wear the accessory in a public ceremony, he said.
Lausch insisted that the district is not anti-military. Recruiters are allowed to speak with students in the high school, he said, and in his commencement remarks he mentioned that some students were entering the armed forces.
“I have very much respect for these students,” he said. “I commend them.”
But if students start showing up at commencement with sashes from different organizations, or colleges they’ve committed to, it will distract from the ceremony, he said.
“We don’t want to honor one group and disappoint another,” he said.
Lausch said that graduates who attended the Berks County Career & Technology Center receive sashes, but the district does not allow those to be worn, either.
Still, the recruits said they didn’t find the ban respectful.
“They say they respect us,” Hunsicker said. “And then they just shove us in a corner.”