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He earned the uniform but can’t wear it

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A senior at Petaluma (CA) High School decided last year that he wanted to join the Marines. He finished up his school courses early and, with the permission of his parents, joined and completed Boot Camp while the rest of his classmates finished up their senior year. Now it’s time for the graduation ceremony and school officials have told him he cannot participate if he wears his uniform instead of the traditional black cap and gown.

Their reason? According to school Principal Mike Simpson, they just want to preserve the “traditional focus” of the graduation ceremony and allowing student Steven Kiernan to attend the event in his uniform would somehow mar that tradition. Someone needs to shove a pointy black mortarboard up Simpson’s butt.

Steer me in the right direction if I’m wrong on this but I thought the whole point of school was to prepare students for the future, be it college, the military or the traditional workforce. Kiernan took the bull by the horns, finished school early and decided to pursue a legitimate and honorable direction for his life. Now, instead of being congratulated for it, he’s being told that upholding a “traditional” two hour graduation ceremony is more important than recognizing Kiernan for what the school purports to want to encourage in it’s student body. They ought to celebrate what Kiernan has achieved, not hide it under a full length robe.

My opinion has nothing to do with politics, military service or any other agenda. It has everything to do with the fact that a school is missing an opportunity to hold Kiernan up as an example of hard work and dedication to what you believe in. While most seventeen year olds are busy text messaging their friends, playing XBox or hanging out at the mall, this kid was going through Boot Camp. Not every teenager out there must to go to such lengths to further themselves but where is the harm in congratulating one that did? I know nothing about this particular school but if it’s anything like the high schools I’m familiar with, there were probably plenty of Senior pranks, Senior Ditch Day and hijinks at the prom that went unacknowledged. At the ceremony there will be the “funny guys” that wear nothing but underwear beneath their gowns, paint their hair green or throw paper airplanes during the ceremony. And here they have a kid who busted his ass to get to Boot Camp so other people could bust his ass for him for a few weeks and he can’t wear his uniform because it’s takes away from the “traditional focus” of the day? Oh, I see, so the focus should be on graduating drones who all look, talk and act the same way and if anyone does anything to distinguish themselves it should be immediately downplayed?

It’s double standards like this that make me sick. Schools claim to be “all about the kids” but when push comes to shove, they blow opportunities to acknowledge kids who do what schools claim they want students to do: work hard and succeed. Kiernan did something very impressive for a kid his age and the school has chosen to send a message that says, “Sure, we want you to do well, but not so well that we are forced to have to change the way we do things.” Namely, allow a person willing to die for our country the right to wear the only clothing he is likely to own for many years to come to his own graduation ceremony.

Great job, Principal Simpson. Way to go, Petaluma School Board. It’s not about patriotism, it’s not about American sentiment. One of your kids did something great. Let him enjoy it by allowing him to wear his uniform while you adults just deal with it. This time next year, you’ll still be sitting in your air conditioned offices eating Krispy Kremes. He might be sitting in a foxhole somewhere eating K-Rations. But, hey, at least the integrity of your precious ceremony will have been upheld, right?


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  • Eric Olsen

    well-written and persuasive – I can see the school’s desire for uniformity, but then why do most schools have different colored robes for highest honors students, male vs female, etc.

    Thanks and welcome Lisa!

  • Mark Saleski

    he better be careful. this might go on his permanent record!

  • RJ

    Perhaps the principal and/or the school board doesn’t view military service (especially in the Marines) as a “wise life choice” for a young man?

    Wouldn’t surprise me, since this is a story from Californistan…

  • Lisa McKay

    Here’s an interesting perspective on it from a former Marine. And another quote, from here:

    “The high school graduation is the high school’s graduation,” said Gunnery Sgt. Shane Maria, head of the Santa Rosa Marine recruiting station. “It’s not our event. If the appropriate attire for the event is a cap and gown, then he’ll be wearing a cap and gown.”

    A possible solution to the whole dilemma, “to pacify a lot of flames that have been brought up with veterans groups,” would be for the high school to announce Kiernan’s military status when they read his name, the Marine Sgt. said.

    “The verbal recognition would be like smoking a peace pipe,” he said.

    Seems to me like the Marines have the more sensible take on the issue.

  • Tan Hoang

    Nice article. Uniformity is the key. In my high school, it was having a small rope around the neck to indicate which students were honors or not. It was small enough to not be noticed among everything, but it was something different enough to distinguish.

  • htom

    If he wants to wear his Blues he can, but he has to wear the cap and gown over them and I don’t know where he’ll put his cover. As well, he’d probably pass out from heat exhaustion, that would be a lot of fabric.

    We don’t need Marines proving that some of us are foolish, Private!

  • DMD

    I agree with the other posters…the cap and gown is the appropriate uniform for THAT day. As I’d expect, that marine gunnery sergeant understands it better than anyone.

  • ? jack

    Wow, this whole thing doesn’t make any sense.
    You have no good argument in amongst that big childish rant.

    The military uniform is not acceptable attire. There are rules. Deal with it.
    Just because someone is involved in the military firstly doesn’t make them better than anyone else, and secondly it doesn’t mean the rules should be bent for them.
    I’m sure there are plenty of students who have been working for charities and doing their community good etc. People who will go on to be surgeons etc yet you seem to think this person is high and mighty and deserves to be made a hero for simply choosing that specific career.

    He will be honoured for what he has done and will do.. at the appropriate time and place.

    You claim it’s not about patriotism.. then what exactly is your problem? Not all students are lazy. And lets not forget being young is a time when it is acceptable to “slack off” socialize, play computer etc. We aren’t talking 30 year olds here..