A last-minute graduation gut-punch for some NC high school seniors | Opinion

There’s a scene in “The Godfather” where the heads of the Five Families convene and Don Vito, seeking to quell a bloody mob war, asks his law-breaking contemporaries “How did things ever get so far?”

That’s the question some parents and students in Craven County are asking after discovering that approximately 50 seniors from New Bern, West Craven and Havelock high schools won’t be allowed to march across the stage with the rest of their classmates this week.

In the words of school spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner, the students from the county’s three traditional high schools “didn’t meet the state’s requirements” so they will not be allowed to march with their classmates at graduation.

Instead, they’ve been offered the opportunity to attend summer school, fulfill those state academic requirements and then participate in what Wagner called “a mini-graduation.”

Barry Saunders

That’s an offer they can’t refuse because there are, Wagner said in a telephone interview and in emails, no other options.

“Students have always had to meet the graduation requirements to be able to have the honor of walking across the stage,” she said.

When I asked if parents and students were blindsided by the news, she said they “have multiple ways to know how they’re doing in class” throughout the year. She cited attendance, grades, class participation and electronic platforms that provide “real time” progress reports.

How, some of you may ask incredulously, did 17- and 18-year-old students get within days of their presumed graduation and not know that they might be in for this academic gut-punch?

Others may ask “Isn’t that what guidance counselors are for — to keep them apprised of their progress or lack thereof?”

Still others will ask “Isn’t that what parents are for?”

Yes, yes and yes.

Me? I was all ready to blame the parents, but realized that not every parent is Ward and June Cleaver — or even Peg and Al Bundy — waiting at the crib with a glass of cold milk and some cookies, eager to help them navigate the complexities of life and high school graduation.

Then, I was ready to fault the high school guidance counselors, because it seems a key part of their responsibility is to, you know, guide students toward graduation. Then I recognized that not all guidance counselors are like Mr. Weatherly, my high school guidance counselor who had me in his office so often that I should have had an endowed chair therein named after me.

The blame must fall, I figured, on the students, who must’ve spent their senior year chillin’, listening to hip hop and rock music, and neglecting their schoolwork, right?

Then, I met Elijah Tripp.

He is one who learned Monday that he would be sitting out the graduation march with his classmates.

Tripp, who said he has often had to fend for himself since his father died, has thus far fended well enough to earn a scholarship to play basketball at Rock Hill Christian Community College.

“For four years, we worked hard, went through COVID, did all the things we thought we were supposed to do,” he said, only to learn at the last minute that he won’t get to march.

“Yessir. Very disappointed,” he responded when asked, “ but I’ll just do what I’ve got to do.”

What he has to do, he said, is finish the course credit online. He should finish it this weekend, he said, but not in time to march with his peers.

Tripp, a preternaturally mature, courteous and respectful 18-year-old, said “I hate for people to think that I’ve been slacking off for four years.”

He said he was missing an English credit he needed.

In addition to becoming an entrepreneur, he said, he wants to become a motivational speaker.

I’m guessing watching his friends march across the stage to “Pomp and Circumstance” at the New Bern High School football stadium while he sits in the stands in his cap and gown will provide him enough motivation to share.

Barry Saunders is a member of the Editorial Board and founder of thesaundersreport.com.