The headline read, “South Carolina mother arrested for cheering too loudly at high school graduation,” and Shannon Cooper’s name was splashed across the news from coast to coast. South Florence High School had asked parents to hold their cheering until every graduate’s name was announced. Shannon defied the rules and was led out of the Florence Civic Center by police, handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct. “How was I so disorderly, you know, any different from just a happy parent?” she said in an interview with local television station WPDE.
Communities across the country grappled in 2012 with what constitutes proper graduation behavior. Columbia area high schools have been asking parents to put a lid on cheering for the past few years. How far should a school go to enforce those rules? Perhaps old-fashioned expectations about pomp and circumstance are out of step with modern times. As local families prepare for graduation season, what do they need to know?
Amy Kuenzie, a sympathetic mom, reflects on the Florence mother’s arrest. “What a bummer. On graduation day,” she says. However, in referring to her own experience with excessive cheering rules, she adds, “When you go in there, you can’t plead ignorance.”
Amy, who owns Balance Your Yoga, has had her inner peace tested by high school graduations twice in the past few years, first with daughter Jamie Spillers, then with son Jason Spillers. Both times, she says, Irmo High School made it clear where they stood on excessive cheering, with advance communication to parents and reminders the day of the ceremony. No cowbells. No signs. No air horns.
No air horns? Amy confirms that, despite the rules, some parents brought air horns. “I understand the enthusiasm,” she says. “You can’t help but laugh at how enthusiastic some people are.” But she also supports the reasons for limiting the noise — respect for time constraints and the other families attending.
Irmo High School senior classes have around 400 students each year. “My first thought when I opened the program was ‘I’ve got to sit through all of this!’” says Amy. The pressure is on to keep the graduates moving. Irmo and other Lexington-Richland District Five high schools host their ceremonies at the Carolina Coliseum back to back, on a set schedule.
The same holds true for graduations in Richland One, where senior classes may be smaller — but so is the amount of time allotted for ceremonies. Kimberly House watched her daughter, Tabitha Jones, graduate from W.J. Keenan High School this past year. “Excessive cheering? Yes.” she says, “People did not pay any attention to the rules.”
Excited as she was for her own daughter, Kimberly kept her enthusiasm under control. She heads an in-school reading program for the United Way and says it’s important to her that she be a good role model. “I’m big on following the rules.” Instead of cheering, she clapped quietly when Tabitha’s name was announced. “I held my chest and cried a little, because she’s my only daughter.”
Others, she says weren’t as contained, and excessive cheering for one student drowned out the announcement of the senior who followed. “I do understand the excitement, but at the same time, because of the cheering, some parents didn’t get that affirmation.”
Pamela Eyring is an etiquette expert and president of The Protocol School of Washington. She’s also the mother of Chapin High School senior Jacob Eyring, and she’ll be attending his graduation. “I certainly don’t want to be arrested,” she says. Though graduation is an important day for seniors and their families, she says that since the school is hosting the event, they make the rules. She likens it to entertaining at home, saying, “If my husband and I host an after party for our son, then we make the rules.”
Her first guideline for a more civil graduation: “Don’t think your child is the only one graduating.” That means showing up on time, meeting people outside the venue and entering together to sit together, putting cell phones on vibrate and not using cell phones for chatting during the ceremony. “I would be irritated if my son’s name is called at the same time the man next to me is babbling on his cell phone,” says Pamela, though using a phone to take photos, text or tweet is okay, she says, as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s enjoyment.
Neither the size of the crowd nor the type of venue, such as a sports arena, should relieve parents of the responsibility to be courteous. “Graduation is not a game, it’s a ceremony,” she says. “Formality is still expected, just as it is in a wedding ceremony. Save the fun for the after party,” she suggests.
Pamela hopes her son will enjoy both the preparation before the ceremony and the day’s events. She says she’ll clap enthusiastically but will wrap it up before the next name is called, remembering that for every student, “Recognition is a powerful emotion and can create the memory of a lifetime. “
Amy and Kimberly say that knowing what to expect can make the day go more smoothly for everyone. “Put things out the night before,” Kimberly advises, “so that you and your senior aren’t scrambling at the last minute to iron a robe or find shoes, ties, caps and tassels.”
Traffic can be challenging, especially for families attending graduation at Carolina Coliseum. Kim stresses, “Give yourself time to get there. When the school officials tell you to be there, that’s when they want you there.”
Consider striking a balance between dressing to look good and dressing for comfort. Many parents park in lots near the University of South Carolina baseball stadium. Amy recommends comfortable shoes for walking to and from the ceremony.
“It’s a wonderful occasion. I just had a wonderful time,” says Kimberly, offering encouragement to parents of this year’s graduating seniors. And if it’s not quite perfect, if your senior ignores you in order to celebrate with friends, you can always keep Amy’s last bit of advice in mind. “Don’t take it personally. They’re not that different from our generation, really. Remember, when that revelation dawns on you, to call your mom and say, ‘I’m sorry.’”
Pamela Eyring, president of The Protocol School of Washington and mother of a graduating senior, offers her graduation etiquette tips:
What’s the best way to handle a limited number of tickets to the ceremony?“The key is to find out as soon as possible how many tickets you will be allotted, then prioritize,” she says. Let extended family know there is a limit, she says, but invite them to celebrate with you afterwards.
What about sending graduation announcements?
“Be selective. Only send announcements to those who really know your child.” Pamela recommends asking your senior for a list, then comparing it with yours. She also suggests covering a lot of friends who are not as close by posting pictures after the ceremony on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
What’s the best way to respond to graduation announcements?“You should respond and congratulate the graduate,” she says, either by calling or mailing a card. Based on your relationship, you can send a gift. She advises that gift cards or money are given most commonly, ranging from $20 to $100.
And when you receive a graduation gift?
“I know today less and less thank you notes are being written. Personally, I still suggest a graduate write a thank you,” Pamela says. If that’s not possible, she suggests making a phone call rather than using email to thank the giver, because email is not as personal.