Plaquemine High School senior Mason Leonard walked across the stage to receive his diploma Friday night, but his family was not allowed in to witness the proud milestone in his young life.
Nor could they capture the moment on video for Leonard’s sick mother who they’ve been told has only months left to live.
The reason? The school’s gym was filled to capacity as counterfeit graduation tickets circulated in town, duplicated from the originals. Each graduate was supposed to get seven tickets, but the venue was flooded with extra people.
Tobey Leonard, Mason’s father, said the family was among those turned away at the gym doors, even though they had the legitimate graduation tickets in hand that were supposed to guarantee them admission.
Elvis Cavalier, chief academic officer for the Iberville Parish school district, confirmed that family members were shut out because of the fake tickets.
“I received numerous calls and videos from family members with legitimate tickets who were denied admittance to the ceremony,” Cavalier said “I was on the phone till 11 last night and most of the morning. I told parents I would mount a full-scale investigation on the fake tickets.”
Each graduating senior was allowed seven tickets to give to family and friends, Cavalier said. The gym, which seats 875 people, hit capacity at about 7 p.m. when the graduation was scheduled to begin.
Cavalier said he has spoken to at least 40 people who said they had tickets but couldn’t get in. Some even sent videos of the scenario to Cavalier as proof.
Tobey Leonard estimated more than 100 people were shut out of the graduation along with him and his family. They arrived on time but had to wait outside for Mason’s brother and his fiancée. When they arrived, however, it was too late.
“They basically shut the doors on us,” Leonard said. “They told us there was nothing they could do.”
Leonard asked people working the doors if just one of them could be allowed inside to video his youngest son’s graduation. The answer was still no.
“The whole issue was my ex-wife, my son’s mother, was diagnosed with melanoma,” Leonard said. “She’s in the terminal stages with two months left to live so she was too sick to make the ceremony. We told her we would go there and film it for her.”
Now the parents’ only hope of seeing their son’s graduation lies in the chance of finding someone else who was able to video the ceremony.
Coaches and teachers who worked at the doors did catch some fake tickets but not all, Cavalier said.
Plaquemine High School Principal Chandler Smith saved a stack of the duplicated tickets, which Cavalier said he will look at Monday when he meets with the principal to discuss the issue.
“There were a lot of angry people. Some came a long way to attend this graduation,” Cavalier said. “I would be upset, too.”
After all the money parents spend on graduation, the caps, gowns and rings, among other things, Leonard said, it’s disappointing school officials did not do more to accommodate family members who had tickets or to ensure tickets could not be duplicated.
“Those tickets should have been embossed and printed so that they could not be counterfeited,” he said.
But what’s most disappointing, Leonard said, is that his son, who has Asperger’s, had to proceed with graduation knowing his family wasn’t sitting in the audience to support him.
“You can imagine how lost he felt not having his family there,” Leonard said. “They should at least give us some kind of public apology.”