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Sturgis Brown High School administrators remain firm on graduation ceremony guidelines


F.Ganje - May 14, 2019

STURGIS, SD – Sometimes, rules are rules. So when an academically accomplished student, who is also a member of the National Guard, wanted to vary the rules by wearing an FFA cord and a National Guard stole during graduation ceremonies coming up this weekend at Sturgis Brown High School (SBHS), school administrators said, ‘no.’

The issue exploded on social media, leaving Meade School District Superintendent Jeff Simmons taking phone calls …. a lot of them. “I’ve received phone calls from across the United States, as has the Governor’s office, in regard to the posts on social media” says Simmons.

At Sturgis Brown, day of graduation recognition is reserved for students who have excelled academically.  Of the 130 graduates this year, 19 are graduating with highest honors and 17 more with honors.  The young student who raised the issue of allowing additional stoles or cords to be worn is among them.

In addition, the parameters of what can be worn as a graduate from Sturgis Brown High School includes full military dress uniform for those students in military service-an option the student declined.

“Students are encouraged to wear their uniform that represents the branch of military they are entering into.  She was asked and encouraged to wear her uniform. She chose not to,” shares Simmons.

The student, Jordan Burge, in an email sent to KBHB wrote, “I think it is very unfair that only academics is honored. A student could not have been the best academic-wise, but could be outstanding in band or choir or FFA, etc.” She added,  “I am saying that we should all wear nothing or we should all be allowed to showcase our achievements. It’s not just for my sake, it’s for all current seniors at SBHS and for those to come.”

Simmons, in an email sent to teachers and staff and in a later interview, laid out the reasoning behind not allowing additional stoles or cords for graduating ceremonies  - while pointing out that throughout the year and the day before graduation, there are programs that recognize students in extra-curricular activities. 

“From scholarships that are awarded to the many different recognitions our seniors achieve, all are formally noted,” says Simmons. “They do wonderful things in their time as high school students and we acknowledge that.

“The graduation ceremony acknowledges students with academic honors, high honors, and National Honor Society achievements.”  He added, “I find it disturbing to believe that one individual could have a negative impact on 129 other graduates walking across the stage because everybody else followed the rules and one person chose not to.”

In his over 30 years in education, Simmons says social norms may have changed but what public education is charged with has not. Although, not without consequences. “Times have changed,” observed Simmons.  “In public education we accept all of our students, regardless of personal circumstances. Our responsibility is to educate.” He continued “In regard to what those outside of the school system believe are our responsibilities – that can and does have a significant impact on simply getting the job done in terms of providing an education within the standards that are set.”

Adding to the confusion over the current issue, is a picture circulating on social media of a student at a past Sturgis Brown High School graduation event who is wearing a military stole – that was put on and photographed after the ceremony was over, according to Simmons.  

He says on graduation day this weekend, he expects to greet students wearing appropriate attire. “The issue is resolved. We are doing what we’ve always done. We are expecting our students to come wearing the appropriate dress and the cords and sashes our school traditionally hands out to students.  There is nothing that’s changed in regard to what we’re doing.”

Rules are rules - a life lesson.  One that Simmons hopes serves a purpose.  “The student was disappointed.  She reacted. We all can get caught up in that,” says Simmons.  “Hopefully this is a learning experience for her. And an opportunity for the school, to say on many different platforms, that we do honor our military young men and women who are entering any branch of the service and we are proud that they do.”



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