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Withholding diplomas is a cheap move

Withholding diplomas is a cheap move (credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor) Withholding diplomas is a cheap move (credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor)
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Last week, Oklahoma City’s NewsChannel 4 reported that a high school valedictorian in Prague, Okla., was blocked from receiving her diploma because she altered her graduation speech and used the word “hell” instead of the pre-approved “heck.”

Kaitlin Nootbaar, the student in question, had completed all required schoolwork with a 4.0 GPA and was not informed of any issue until she went to pick up her physical diploma. The school has commented that it will give Nootbaar her diploma when she issues a formal apology for her actions.

This type of diploma withholding in response to non-academic issues is a common practice for schools to control students during the final few weeks of classes. However, these punishments cheapen the four years of dedication and effort needed to achieve that academic recognition.

At the federal, state, and individual school levels, there are various academic requirements that each student must achieve in order to graduate and be awarded a diploma. If a student meets all of these requirements, it’s naturally assumed that he or she will be given a diploma to represent that achievement. For most people, a high school diploma holds mostly sentimental value — since you are officially a high school graduate regardless of that piece of paper — but some professions and colleges require a copy of your diploma as credentials.

Schools have resorted to withholding diplomas because they have limited options for punishing students at the end of their senior years. Some high schools use the inability to walk across the stage at graduation as a deterrent to end-of-the-year shenanigans. Others withhold diplomas from students who are not the best behaved during their final weeks of classes. Both of these options have a much further-reaching impact than do the standard suspension or detention that these same crimes would garner during the school year.

Graduation is a celebration not only for the students, but also for those who supported them throughout their long educational journeys. There are still many students in this country who are the first in their families to have the opportunity to graduate from high school and go to college. Threatening to ruin this achievement for minor infractions such as saying “hell” instead of “heck” does not give this possibly life-changing moment the gravitas it deserves.

While there is a need to keep seniors in check in the final weeks of their high school careers, using graduation threats is not an appropriate way to do so. As these students prepare to enter a new stage of their lives, full of new responsibilities, schools should be setting a better example than petty extortion.