Illinois Students Lose Diplomas Over Cheers
By JAN DENNIS, AP
GALESBURG, Illinois (June 2) – Caisha Gayles graduated with honors last month, but she is still waiting for her diploma. The reason: the whoops of joy from the audience as she crossed the stage.
The school said the five students can still get their diplomas by completing eight hours of public service work, answering phones, sorting books or doing other chores for the district.
Gayles was one of five students denied diplomas from the lone public high school in Galesburg after enthusiastic friends or family members cheered for them during commencement.
About a month before the May 27 ceremony, Galesburg High students and their parents had to sign a contract promising to act in dignified way. Violators were warned they could be denied their diplomas and barred from the after-graduation party.
Many schools across the country ask spectators to hold applause and cheers until the end of graduation. But few of them enforce the policy with what some in Galesburg say are strong-arm tactics.
In Galesburg, the issue has taken on added controversy with accusations that the students were targeted because of their race: four are black and one is Hispanic. Parents say cheers also erupted for white students, and none of them was denied a diploma.
“It was like one of the worst days of my life,” said Gayles, who had a 3.4 grade-point average and officially graduated, but does not have the keepsake diploma to hang on her wall. “You walk across the stage and then you can’t get your diploma because of other people cheering for you. It was devastating, actually.”
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