ASHEBORO, N.C. – A student received his high school diploma Monday, four days after his principal set off a social media firestorm by refusing to present it at graduation because the teen draped a Mexican flag over his gown.
More than 100,000 people had signed an online petition Monday demanding that Ever Lopez be awarded his diploma. The controversy became so heated that police conducted extra patrols in and around Asheboro High School, saying at least 10 threatening emails have been sent to school employees.
“I’m grateful that I got what I deserved,” Ever said Monday.
His mother, Margarita, held the diploma up in front of a crowd of journalists and supporters. “I have Ever’s diploma,” she said through an interpreter. “And it’s not just Ever’s diploma. It’s all of our diplomas and our community’s diploma.”
The incident ignited rallies in the city of 25,000 people 85 miles northeast of Charlotte. Siembra NC, a statewide Latinx advocacy organization, held a rally for Lopez and his family and pledged full support.
"We actually have members here that have stood up, have fought back in our neighborhoods here in Asheboro against ICE, against wage theft and against discrimination in schools, which is what we're seeing happening right now," said Kelly Morales, an organizer for Siembra.
Lopez said he carried the flag into graduation Thursday night at Asheboro High School, draping it over his shoulders after he was seated. No one mentioned the flag until he reached the stage, he said.
"I did it for my family," he said. "They came over here to give me a better future.”
Asheboro City Schools officials said last week that Lopez's violation of the dress code was "grossly unfair" and "diminished the event."
“The heart of the issue is the fact that the student did not follow the established dress code for the event and detracted from the importance and the solemnity of the ceremony,” the district said in the statement. “Our dress code is in place to ensure the dignity of the event is upheld and is fair to all students."
An email Principal Penny Crooks sent to students before the ceremony explained the dress code, saying male students should wear a dress shirt and dress pants, and no flip flops or tennis shoes are allowed. The email also says clothing should meet the school district's dress code policy. The email and school dress code make no mention of flags being prohibited attire and do not say students aren't allowed to wear anything over their gowns.
Lopez said after the ceremony he and his parents met with Crooks, who wanted him to apologize.
"I ain't apologizing for nothing," Lopez said. "It's you who should be apologizing. You're the one doing wrong."
The Change.org petition was entitled "Give this man his diploma."
"Ever Lopez was wearing a Mexican flag during his graduation and didn’t receive his diploma," the petition states. "This is unacceptable, this man worked his butt off for HIS diploma."
Video of the incident fueled social media outrage, and comments have flooded Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Tiktok. Lopez's cousin, Adolfo Hurtado, posted video of the incident on Twitter. It drew 3,000 retweets and more than 1,000 comments.
"My mans left with dignity and honor!" responded @CarlosRIOS77. "He refused to take off the flag and threw his fist up high! May this brother get countless open doors and opportunities!"
But not all agreed with Lopez.
"What’s the point of dress code if you can wear what you want?" tweeted @coreymoto. "There is no grey area with that, get your diploma and go celebrate in whatever style you want."
And this from @irregular_view: "If it was a Confederate flag they would have given him 2 diplomas."
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va. Shen writes for The Courier Tribune in Asheboro, N.C. Contributing: Rachel Berry, The Courier Tribune
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Diploma finally awarded to student who draped Mexican flag over gown