One of the best things about graduating high school is the sense of freedom you have as an official adult. Sure, an 18th birthday qualifies you as “grown up,” but it doesn’t really feel that way until you’ve walked out of that oppressive building for the last time. School is a place full of arbitrary rules and constant reprimands, even for the best of kids. Andrew Jones was the valedictorian of his graduating class, so he probably qualifies as one of the best of kids. But he still wasn’t permitted to walk at his own graduation ceremony when school authorities made one more sweeping gesture towards discipline.
Just before the ceremony, Jones was informed that if he wanted to walk across the stage, he’d have to shave his beard. It was a beard that Jones had worn throughout his high school career, during which he earned his 4.0 GPA. Jones told ABC News that they even stripped him of his gown when he refused to return home and shave. His aunt, Sabrina Davis, wrote on Facebook that they didn’t even mention Jones’ name during the ceremony.
Lots of people commenting on the story are asking, “Why didn’t you just suck it up and shave?” As someone who hates being told what to do, I completely understand why he didn’t, but Jones told WVUE-TV, “I feel they should have let me march… The hair on my face has nothing to do with school. I wasn't distracting anybody.”
Amite High School is located in Louisiana, and superintendent Mark Knowles said that though the dress code policy of “no beards” had heretofore been inconsistently enforced, the principal was attempting to stick to it for graduation. The local NAACP chapter, however, believes that part of their decision was racially motivated. President Patricia Morris is calling for the resignation of parish high school officials, and is arguing that a white student with a full beard was allowed to march. The high school maintains that that student had a doctor’s note explaining his facial hair is necessary due to a skin condition that makes shaving impossible.
Davis does believe the policy is unfair, but did not comment on the racial aspect of it. She did say, “We taught Andrew to stand up for what he believes in. This is not for publicity or likes… He is not a spoiled child. He chose to work hard to have a 4.0 and it paid off, so why take that away from him like that? That was his moment, and he’ll never get it back.”
I hope Andrew Jones gets away from school and finds out there’s a wide open world for someone who can swing a 4.0 GPA and also looks dashing with a goatee.