In a controversial incident at Philadelphia High School for Girls, principal Lisa Mesi denied diplomas to two young Black women after they danced across the stage during graduation. (essence.com) Following the outcry, Mesi has been replaced as the principal by Janis Butler in what the school district calls a “temporary” change. The incident has sparked discussions about tradition, racism, and the right to celebrate achievements in marginalized communities. (essence.com) (inquirer.com)
Philadelphia High School for Girls, a historic magnet school, has a long-standing tradition of graduates wearing all white attire and walking across the stage in a sedate manner. (6abc.com) Mesi had warned graduates that diplomas would be withheld if their families clapped, cheered, or called out their names during the ceremony. (washingtonpost.com)
During the graduation ceremony, Hafsah Abdul-Rahman performed the griddy dance and an audience member laughed, while Saleemah Burch flipped her hair and made a gesture, leading to someone clapping. Both Abdul-Rahman and Burch expressed humiliation and distress over Mesi’s decision to hold them accountable for the reactions of audience members. (essence.com)
District officials acknowledged that withholding diplomas based on family members cheering was unacceptable and apologized to the affected families and graduates. However, the incident raises concerns about the underlying racism and the suppression of joy and celebration in marginalized communities. (essence.com)
The expectation of a silent and dignified graduation smacks of classism and racism, according to activist Mikki Kendall. It categorizes the joy of marginalized communities as a threat and assumes that there is only one way to behave in public. Administrators prioritizing silence and conformity over genuine celebration turns a day of achievement into a battle over arbitrary definitions of dignity.
Furthermore, this incident highlights the educational disparities faced by marginalized communities. Access to education is still relatively new for many of these communities, and the effort required to overcome the odds and pave a path to success is immense. When everyone has worked so hard to help a child succeed, it is only natural for everyone to want to celebrate, including cheering at the moment of receiving a diploma.
The incident at Philadelphia High School for Girls not only undermines the spirit of celebration but also perpetuates systemic inequalities. It is a stark reminder of the challenges faced by marginalized communities in accessing quality education and the need for a more inclusive and supportive environment in schools. By acknowledging and embracing the joy and accomplishments of all students, we can create a more equitable and celebratory educational experience for everyone.