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Editorial: Honor student patriotism at graduation

Orchard Park school officials should have seen it coming.

They should have known that a student would want to wear a military sash with his or her graduation gown and walk across the stage. The request was made – and denied – in 2016. Back then the parent whose son wanted to wear his military sash said: “ … unless they do something about this it was going to blow up on them.”

Now it has – virally.

Dillon Donovan, a member of the school’s class of 2018, left Orchard Park’s graduation ceremony Saturday after he was told he could not wear his military sash with his gown and walk across the stage. The 18-year-old’s family and friends exited the building but not without one of them taking a picture of the soon-to-be Marine – wearing his sash – and then posting it on Facebook.

The outcry was instantaneous. Critics slammed the district for prohibiting students from adorning themselves with military regalia.

There is, in fairness, a flip side to this question: What if a student wanted to wear a Nazi sash, or some other patently unacceptable item of clothing? In addition, the district’s marching orders have been clear and long-standing. Its graduates, it says, form a “cohesive group,” and cords, sashes and decorated caps not part of the ceremony, according to the rules.

But then it went viral.

The storm that erupted was predictable and avoidable: Make an exception for students joining one of the military services. It would not only have saved the district trouble and embarrassment, but it’s the right thing to do.

Orchard Park Superintendent Matthew McGarrity said that the district took steps a couple of years ago to address the issue. Students entering the military are recognized by name at the senior awards/honors banquet and they are recognized as a group at graduation.

To the superintendent’s credit, he recognizes that it may be time to change.

School administrators have contacted members of the armed forces for input on how the district should proceed when it comes to students going into the military. The superintendent also sent a letter to parents saying that their input, along with faculty and students, would be much appreciated. The district also plans to contact local universities and high schools.

Dillon’s dream of wearing his military sash while walking across the stage with his high school graduating class may not have come true. But, as he said, he took a stand for students coming behind him. Here’s hoping it pays off.

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