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Editorial: Graduation is about the students

Editorial: Graduation is about the students

Mechanicville grads deprived of deserved press coverage due to interim superintendent's actions
Editorial: Graduation is about the students
Jon-Luc Robbins gets a flower from longtime home and careers teacher Eileen Collins.
Photographer: Erica Miller

High school graduation is the finish line for one of life’s ultimate marathons.

In between all the fun times with friends and the joys of youth and the inspirations and revelations and growth, school is a test of one’s endurance.

For 13 years, from the first day of kindergarten through the final day of their senior year, students’ brains are peppered with millions of facts. 

They’ve taken thousands of quizzes and tests. They’ve sat through hours of high-pressure exams. They’ve endured outdoor gym class and peer pressure and bullying and sexual issues.

Many have gone to school hungry and reeling from the effects of difficult home lives. They’ve dealt with the challenges of keeping up their grades while trying to have a social life. And they’ve faced the uncertainty of their impending adult future. Oh, and let’s throw in puberty, just for fun.

If the ancient Greeks had known about modern American education, they would have included it as an original Olympic sport.

High school graduation is the prize for breaking the tape. It’s unfortunate that at one local school district, one school administrator lost sight of that.

In the shadow of potential controversy over the district’s hastily announced graduation speaker, controversial horse trainer Chad Brown, interim Superintendent Jon Hunter decided at the last minute to prohibit reporters from covering the event, even standing at the door with plain-clothes sheriff’s deputies to prevent reporters from attending.

“This ceremony is about the students and we will focus on the students,” he said as his justification for the blackout.

As anyone who has read graduation articles in newspapers and seen graduations covered on TV, these stories are exclusively and positively about the grads.

They almost always quote the valedictorian and salutatorian and other speakers from the graduating class. 

They often describe some of the class or individual accomplishments, and often focus on the fun things going on at the ceremony.

Photos are regularly of kids preparing to march down the aisle, of getting their diplomas and of gathering with their loved ones after the ceremony.

In prohibiting press coverage, Hunter deprived the students of their 15 minutes in the spotlight.

Those graduation speeches went uncovered. Those great photos didn’t find their way online, where relatives and grads could have downloaded them.

There’s no article to clip and paste into a scrapbook, other than the one in which a controversial speaker was invited and the press was banned. 

This decision was “about the students?” It focused “on the students?”

What utter nonsense.

The interim superintendent’s action was designed to avert a bad public reaction to a questionable decision and to deprive the public of a true accounting of what happened at the ceremony.

Not to mention, the decision was likely in violation of state Education Law, which requires that such events held on school property be “non-exclusive and shall be open to the general public.” 

In other words, you can’t allow some people to attend, but exclude others.

If Hunter and others behind the decision to invite Brown were so concerned his presence might draw away coverage from the students and therefore detract from the ceremony, then why have him as the keynote speaker in the first place?

As of this month, Hunter thankfully is out as interim, and Mechanicville has a new full-time superintendent.

Let’s hope he and the school board learn a lesson from this incident and return the graduation ceremony to those whose accomplishments it was designed to celebrate — the students.

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