May 27—After a petition garnered more than 21,000 signatures on his behalf, a transgender student at Pope High School had his preferred name read as he crossed the stage at graduation.
As he made his way across the stage at McEachern High School's Cantrell Stadium during graduation ceremonies on Wednesday night, the name "Soren Tucker" echoed through the stadium, followed immediately by a roar of cheers and applause from Tucker's classmates and their families.
Whether Tucker would have his preferred name read at graduation was uncertain until recent days, according to Lily Smith, who created the online petition calling for Tucker's preferred name to be read.
The original message on the petition page said administration at Pope High School in east Cobb was "refusing to refer to transgender students by their names."
"When asking to have his name read correctly while walking across the stage at graduation, senior Soren Tucker was refused outright," the message reads. "Admin. is only allowing 'legal names,' on diplomas and on the call list for graduation (despite the call list being separate from the diplomas), meaning that Soren and other transgender students will be publicly deadnamed as they walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, a moment they've waited their whole lives for."
Merriam-Webster defines "deadnaming" as speaking of or addressing a transgender person by a name they were given at birth and no longer use upon transitioning.
A day before the graduation Smith posted an update on the petition's change.org page:
"Amazing news everyone!! The school has agreed to use Soren's preferred name at graduation. It is unclear if there will be changes that affect the future and county policies, but we won this victory!" she wrote. "Thank you to all that signed and shared Soren's story. For those of you that Soren inspired, don't stop fighting for what's right, and always stand up for who you are."
District spokesperson Nan Kiel on Thursday told the MDJ Pope High School Principal Tom Flugum met with Tucker and his family prior to the commencement ceremony. That conversation was the first opportunity the principal had had to speak with the family, Kiel said.
"They had a great conversation and the student and parent's preferences were taken into account during Pope's graduation ceremony," she said. "While official school business requires the use of a student's legal name, all of our schools take student and family preference into account during informal school activities."
Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.