June 16, 2008

Rudeness at Graduation

We know that arresting people for cheering at a high school graduation ceremony seems like a punishment out of proportion to the crime. But what recourse do school officials have?

Seven people were arrested over the weekend for cheering when graduates crossed the stage at Winthrop Coliseum. One was arrested at the York Comprehensive High School commencement Friday morning, and six were arrested Saturday morning during Fort Mill High School's commencement.

Officials from both schools had asked Rock Hill police to monitor the ceremonies and enforce the rules limiting cheers for individual graduates. Those in attendance were warned in writing before graduation day and at the ceremonies that outbursts during presentation of diplomas were strictly prohibited.

While graduation ceremonies are supposed to be a joyous occasion, the rules against cheering or applauding the graduates as they walk the stage make sense. The noise can drown out the announcement of the next student receiving his or her diploma, which isn't fair.

The noise problem had reached epic proportions when schools decided to clamp down a few years ago. Some families brought air horns and other noisemakers to raise the roof as friends and relatives received diplomas.

When the new rules were introduced, most willingly went along. But each year, a few would flout the rules and cheer or clap during the ceremonies. Police reacted by escorting the offending parties out of the coliseum.

And that, apparently, was what some were expecting this year. They might even have regarded being escorted out of the building as a favor, a pass on having to watch the rest of the students cross the stage.

But police tactics had changed.

"I just thought they were going to escort me out," said one of those arrested over the weekend. "I had no idea they were going to put handcuffs on me and take me to jail."

Those arrested now face trial and possible fines.

Heavy handed? That may be the general consensus. The local story was picked up by national news organizations, so arrests at graduation events probably are something of a novelty.

Again, though, we ask ourselves what alternatives schools have when people refuse to restrain themselves, preventing others from hearing the names of graduates receiving diplomas. Maybe a ticket and a fine would be preferable to handcuffs and a trip to jail.

But both should be unnecessary. With hundreds of students graduating, the audience should recognize the need to maintain order without having to be subdued by police. It's called being polite.

And to those who were arrested: Didn't your momma teach you any manners?

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