I am conflicted about the actions of Andrew Jones, the Amite High School valedictorian who chose to take a position on facial hair that he knew would result in him being denied participation in graduation ceremonies.
On the one hand, I believe in standing up against rules you consider unfair and kind of stupid. After all, Amite High is neither a military nor a private school.
But there is a little part of me that thumbs-ups the idea that a goatee is worth standing on the sidelines at a graduation where you are not only the valedictorian but you have a 4.0 GPA and have college scholarships. And, according to news accounts, several students shaved just before the ceremony.
In my senior year of high school, I joined a group of students protesting against a principal and his strict disciplinary policies. The group leaders — I was not one of them — pushed against the principal to the point that my senior class did not have a yearbook.
Now, in reflection, my classmates wish we had a yearbook. That topic comes up when we have class reunions, and we always have a difficult time pegging just what made us so angry.
In my junior year, I was with a small group of students who sat down during the playing of the national anthem at a high school playoff basketball game. It was a symbolic gesture to protest the unfair treatment of African-Americans across the country.
In our minds, we were like Olympic sprinters John Carlos and Tommy Smith when they raised their black-gloved fists on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. (I have that famous picture of the incident in my den.)
We heard a few boos. But I think, though, somewhere deep down in the hearts of some of detractors, they understood our non-violent protest.
My dad, a military veteran, did not know about what I did, but he had seen others do it at other venues. He was conflicted about the action. He tried to understand it. He never did it, but he never told me not to do it.
Now comes Andrew Jones. The rule at Amite is that male students have to be clean-shaven to march in that Tangipahoa Parish school’s graduation. Apparently, Jones and his family were aware of the rule. Also, there had been previous graduations at the school where the rule was imposed.
Some critics contend that the school allowed Jones to wear a beard throughout the school year but raised the rule at graduation. Well, that’s the rule at graduation. All of the boys I graduated with wore black shoes at our high school graduation because that was the rule.
Whether you agree with his position or not, Jones took a stand, knowing there will not be a do-over graduation ceremony.
I was impressed that Jones would risk everything against the stupid rule. His facial hair would not cause a disruption of any sort during the ceremony. But that was the rule.
The Tangipahoa Parish NAACP has challenged the school and the district administration and has asked for the resignation of the school principal and others. This is a difficult case to win because the stupid rule affected everyone. Hopefully, though, the national attention this case has gotten will lead to its abolishment.
Here is a minor aside. Will Jones now have people watching to see if he shaves his facial hair in the next few months or during college? If he does, some might ask why he didn’t do it for his high school graduation. Will he decline jobs that won’t allow his facial hair?
I don’t know what his family thought about his stand. I have read the stories, but I wonder what his mom really thought.
I asked my wife if she would have supported our son had he decided that facial hair was more important than participating in his high school graduation ceremony. She quickly replied, “Yes.”
I would have begrudgingly supported him, too. And my enthusiasm would have grown after thinking about the reason I don’t have my Class of 1972 yearbook.
Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.