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Orchard Park student leaves graduation rather than remove military sash

Orchard Park Central School District will review a graduation policy that prohibits students wearing cords and sashes, after a student who wanted to wear a military sash was barred from Saturday's ceremony.

The student, Dillon Donovan, said he took a stand for students coming behind him. He and his family left Kleinhans Music Hall when he was not allowed to go on the stage wearing his sash, he said.

"My graduation is something I would have liked to have experienced, but this is not my most important one," he said. "My most important one is graduation from military boot camp."

Donovan, 18, may have thought he was making a local stand, but he has heard from hundreds of people from around the country who messaged him after his former little loop football coach and family friend posted a photo of him wearing his cap, gown and sash on Facebook, with a scathing message about the incident and the school district.

Orchard Park Superintendent Matthew McGarrity, in a letter to families posted on the district website, said the graduation protocol and requirements had been reviewed the week before the event.

"With this request coming on the day of graduation immediately before the ceremony, it did not allow the district the chance to consider changing its historical practice and provide the same opportunity to all other graduates either entering the military, college or the world of work," McGarrity said in his letter.

But the superintendent said the district now will look at the practice.

"The Orchard Park School District supports all of our students, including our students entering the armed forces. Accordingly, this request will prompt a discussion of our current practices and protocols at graduation," he said in the letter, adding that "the administration welcomes the discussion."

He said in the past, the district has focused on the graduating class as a "cohesive group," with cords, sashes and decorated caps not part of graduation.

In rehearsal, Donovan said, the school had talked about not decorating caps, but he does not remember anyone addressing the prohibition on sashes and cords. He said he wore his maroon cap and gown and yellow sash to the waiting room at Kleinhans.

"I started to notice no one else had it on," he said.

He said a number of teachers approached him, some said they supported him and he should keep it on, while others told him to remove the sash as it was not uniform with the other students.

He kept it on as students processed to the stage, where he was stopped by a teacher who said: "You're not really going to make me do this, are you?"

Donovan said he replied, "If you're not going to let me walk with this on – I'm not taking it off."

He told school staff that he wanted his diploma. They handed him his diploma in a manila envelope offstage, but he did not get the formal case.

"My parents were upset," he said. "If they're not going to let me walk, what's the point sitting there with everyone doing what I wanted to do?"

He said he and his parents left and went to the Walden Galleria, where they got something to eat.

Donovan said he has wanted to join the Marines since he was 5 or 6 years old, and he wants to be an infantryman. He signed up for a six-year stint Feb. 26, four days after he turned 18. He leaves for Marine Corps boot camp in Parris Island, S.C., July 9. After boot camp, he will enter college, while still training with the Marines. He will graduate as a second lieutenant.

His grandfathers and great-grandfather served in the military, but none close to him was a Marine.

"The Marines, they're the greatest fighting force in the world. It's something bigger than myself," he said.

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