MECHANICVILLE -- Mechanicville interim Superintendent Jon Hunter said Saturday’s graduation ceremony “is about the students” as he barred media from covering the event.
The Mechanicville graduation drew attention this week after some students and parents expressed concern over keynote speaker Chad Brown, an accomplished horse trainer and Mechanicville native.
A Daily Gazette reporter and photographer were prohibited from attending the graduation ceremony Saturday morning at Mechanicville High School, though the photographer was allowed to take pictures of graduates preparing in the school prior to the ceremony.
“This ceremony is about the students and we will focus on the students,” Hunter told a Gazette reporter when asked specifically why media were not allowed into the ceremony.
The Daily Gazette, and other local media outlets, regularly cover high school and college graduation ceremonies across the region. So far this month, The Gazette has written about and/or photographed more than 10 graduations around the region, including three other graduations on Saturday.
The Mechanicville district on Tuesday announced Brown, who has notched national awards for best horse racing trainer and last year set a Saratoga meet record for most wins, would be the graduation keynote speaker. Students and parents started posting comments that they opposed Brown’s visit, citing recent federal labor violations that resulted in Brown agreeing to pay over $1.6 million in backpay, damages and fines, as well as his connection to racing-related horse deaths. Many of the comments were deleted by someone managing the district’s Facebook page.
A Mechanicville parent also contacted Horseracing Wrongs, an anti-horse racing advocacy group that tracks racing-related horse deaths across the country and protests during the Saratoga meet. The organization helped graduates upset about the speaker selection contact local media outlets. The Gazette and the Albany Times Union both published articles Thursday concerning students and parents upset about Brown’s invitation to speak. Brown could not be reached for comment Saturday afternoon.
The event appeared to run smoothly, with a small handful of students and parents staging silent protests by turning their back to Brown while he spoke or leaving the auditorium, according to some of those protesters.
During the ceremony, graduates Jordan Blair and Hailey Bub got up from their seats on stage, went to the back of the stage and turned their backs on Brown while he spoke in silent protest. Before the event, some of their classmates told them they supported their position but didn't plan to join the protest.
After the ceremony, Bub said she was largely frustrated by the way the school didn't announce Brown as the speaker until days before the event. She said she felt district officials weren't forthcoming in answering questions she had about how the speaker was selected or why the announcement wasn't made sooner. She said she heard Brown's speech but didn't feel he had offered much by way of advice for the graduates.
"This whole thing up until the silent protest was just to spread knowledge and stand up for what we believe in. We have done our research and know the negative things Chad Brown has done," Bub said Saturday afternoon, saying the focus of the protest was around Brown's labor violations and the district's handling of his invitation to speak. "Just because he grew up here doesn't mean he's fit to be someone to give us advice for the future, which I don't think he did anyway."