With his mother and girlfriend beside him on what was supposed to be one of the most important days of his life, Jacob swelled with pride. But when it was his turn to go up, the principal paused.
Picking Jacob out in the crowd, he smugly shot him a look… and then moved on to the next name on the list. But when everyone found out why the principal had nixed Jacob from his own graduation ceremony, they were outraged.
Jacob Dalton Stanley from Crown Point, Indiana, was a student at Crown Point High School. Since he was a boy, he had wanted to serve his country and dreamed of becoming a sergeant one day.
He expressed his desire to join the U.S. Army when he was only ten years old. He wanted to be just like his father. But nobody expected this to come of it.
Jacob worked diligently at his studies and completed his high school requirements months in advance so that he could pursue his dream.
When he had completed his studies, he promptly enlisted in the Marines. He finished boot camp right in time to fly back to Indiana to attend his high school graduation ceremony. Little did he know, it wouldn’t go as planned.
Shannon, Jacob’s high school sweetheart, was waiting for him. She and his mother, Kathy, were ecstatic to have him home again.
And when he showed them his Marine Corps uniform, his mother couldn’t have been prouder. She was in awe of what her son had achieved in just a few months. And as the cherry on top, he was about to receive his high school diploma.
As Kathy, Jacob, and Shannon made their way to Jacob’s high school, they were thrilled that all his hard work had finally paid off.
Jacob was excited to be presented with his diploma in front of his friends and family — he’d earned it. His entire life lay in front of him. Nothing, he thought, could take this away from him.
Jacob was greeted with congratulations and salutes from his friends and teachers. The excitement in the air was palpable as students and their parents flooded the stands in their gowns and caps.
But it was the reaction to what Jacob decided to wear to the ceremony that, for some, would push things way too far.
The principal of Crown Point High School, Chip Pettit, took the stage and tapped on his mic. Fumbling through his notes, he began his opening speech to a sea of enthusiastic young faces.
Then, he began to call out names in alphabetical order. But it wouldn’t be long before students and parents alike would be recoiling in shock.
When Mr. Pettit reached the S’s, Kathy squeezed Jacob’s hand and beamed up at him. He took a last look at the acceptance speech he’d prepared and practiced until it was perfect.
Stepping forward, he readied himself to walk up to the stage. But just as Mr. Pettit reached his last name on the list, he paused.
Searching for and picking Jacob out in the crowd, Mr. Pettit’s eyes met his and he smugly shot him a look. Then, he moved on to the next name on the list without reading Jacob’s.
Jacob’s face fell for a moment in disbelief and the crowd went quiet. Surely this was a mistake? Why had Jacob’s name been omitted?
Jacob’s face fell. He knew he had defied the principal that very afternoon, but he never expected Mr. Pettit to publicly humiliate him like this.
The way he saw it, he had just been standing up for his rights. Why did his school have such a problem with what he was wearing? Why had he been singled out like this?
After putting his life on the line to serve his country, this was how he was treated?
And what infuriated Kathy the most was that she looked around and noticed that there were other students who were violating the graduation dress code, too. And yet, their names had still been called. Did Mr. Pettit have a problem with her son?
“It was a disgrace,” Kathy later said in an interview. “There was one student who wore shorts and gym shoes, and another student who wore a red turban symbolizing his religious views.”
Jacob had shown up to the ceremony wearing his full dress blue Marine Corps uniform. But, to be fair, there was nothing in the Crown Point Community School Corp. bylaws that addressed whether U.S. military uniforms could be worn at graduation. Everyone was outraged. But nobody expected Jacob’s story to reach such high places.
The situation was “absolutely ridiculous,” said Leann Tustison, a peer of Jacob’s. “He’s in the military putting his life on the line for us. It’s unacceptable that he was not allowed to walk across the stage.”
“The students were outraged,” she added. “There were some students who were going to walk in solidarity with Jake.” And the backlash didn’t stop there.
Christal Hernandez, who heard about the story, took to Facebook: “It amazes me that all through life, people are always telling you to be proud that you’re different, celebrate your uniqueness, yet at one of the most memorable events in your life, an administrator makes the decision to completely destroy your accomplishments,” she wrote.
“SHAME ON YOU CPHS & CHIP PETTIT!” But Mr. Pettit had more than the ire of the community to contend with. Soon, the House Education Committee had heard the story, too.
“I sent Mr. Pettit a letter today,” one angry Facebook user wrote. “I know of people who are pulling all financial support of CPHS and their programs over this. If that were my son, I would have escorted him across the stage.”
But what did Mr. Pettit have to say? Well, according to him, Jacob had been warned.
When Jacob participated in his Crown Point High School senior class graduation rehearsal earlier that day, Mr. Pettit had informed him that he wouldn’t be allowed to wear his uniform to the ceremony.
And, to Jacob’s shock, the principal was true to his word. So, when he arrived at his graduation ceremony in his uniform, his name was struck off the program. But, in the wake of an unbelievable amount of backlash, does Mr. Pettit regret it?
Although Mr. Pettit has received a ton of hate online, he insists that he was only enforcing school policy and stands by what he did. He argued that Jacob could have instead worn a military stole or cord over a gown and been recognized during the graduation ceremony.
“This tradition is not intended to be disrespectful to students, parents, or our community, but as a source of pride for our students,” Mr. Pettit told NBC Chicago. But no amount of defense would make him less of a hypocrite in the public’s eyes…
To add insult to injury, another school in the Crown Point area called Hobart High School had a similar situation that had also been widely publicized — but for a very different reason.
A graduate named Ana Kritikos had also enlisted in the Marine Corps and, like Jacob, she had graduated early so she could enlist. And she was permitted to wear her military uniform during commencement ceremonies.
When Ana returned for her graduation ceremony, she expressed her desire to wear her military uniform to the high school administrators. And, in sharp contrast to Jacob’s story, she said that she received their full support.
“They have been absolutely amazing. It is OK with the Marines for us to wear our uniforms at high school graduation,” Ana said. “I know the School Board, the principal, and superintendent talked about it and were in agreement that I could wear my Marine uniform.” So, couldn’t Principal Pettit have held his tongue and done the same?
Unlike Crown Point and their now wildly unpopular principal, Peggy Buffington, Hobart High School Superintendent, said that her school tries to go out of its way to recognize military graduates.
“We recognize audience members and future military in our graduates by having them stand. It is always a very special and patriotic moment where the audience roars with applause,” Peggy revealed. “This year was especially nice because Ana Kritikos graduated midterm and landed just in time for the graduation ceremony.”
“We did recognize her and the achievements she has made in the Marines, already,” Peggy continued. “She is a Private 1st Class Military Occupation Specialist. She is currently serving in Virginia in their specialist class involved with intelligence and started her training in January. We are extremely proud of her accomplishments.”
However, according to a US Marine Corps spokesman, the military does not get involved with graduation dress codes. “The Marine Corps does not dictate what specific high schoolers can or cannot graduate in,” Marine Corps Major Clark Carpenter stated. “That decision is up to school leadership.” But it may not be up to the school leaders for long.
State Rep. Mike Aylesworth was appalled when he read about Jacob being barred from his own graduation. And he agreed with all the backlash the school was receiving. He even added some of his own.
“What happened I found not appropriate,” Mike, a Vietnam-era veteran, said. “I just think people who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way should have the option to wear a uniform at graduation.” And his comment won more than just support.
State Rep. Mike Aylesworth won committee approval for a bill mandating that school districts allow students already serving in the military to wear their dress uniform instead of the traditional graduation apparel.
“It’s a hodgepodge of local school board regulations all over the state,” Mike said. “I just want to make it consistent all over the state.”
“Most school corporations in the state do the right thing and don’t need a law for guidance, but there’s evidently a couple of school corporations that need help,” said Mike, obviously referring to Mr. Pettit and Crown Point High School.
“We should be encouraging young people who want to put their life on the line for our country to go through graduation and walk up on the stage in their uniform,” Mike added.
Wheeler Stanley, Jacob’s father, refused to comment on the incident at the school, but he did say that he would support legislation to enforce a uniform standard across the state. “I would support it wholeheartedly,” he said. But what does Jacob say?
“I don’t want the social media controversy that is drawing attention away from the Class of 2017,” he said in an interview. “I also do not want to make any additional statements and wish to put this all behind me so I can start my career in the Marine Corps.”