Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"The Applause Police" Go on the Rampage at a Recent Graduation

A few weeks ago, at graduation time, I posted a set of stories about people who had setbacks at their graduation ceremonies for what appeared to be silly reasons: Not being allowed to walk as punishment for riding a horse to school, not being allowed to wear military uniforms, etc. And now comes word of some audience members who were arrested for cheering too loudly at a recent high school ceremony in South Carolina:
Six people were arrested for cheering at Fort Mill High School's commencement ceremony at Winthrop Coliseum Saturday, according to police reports.

Another man was arrested at the York Comprehensive High School commencement Friday morning, also at the Winthrop Coliseum, according to Rock Hill police reports.

Following a growing trend at high schools around the country, Fort Mill and York school officials asked Rock Hill police to monitor the graduation ceremonies and enforce the rules limiting cheers for individual graduates. District officials said the rule is in place to prevent loud cheers from drowning out the reading of the next graduate's name. Attendees were warned verbally and in writing that loud celebrations during the presentation of diplomas were strictly prohibited, the reports state.
Is it me, or did the authorities totally overreact here? Eject someone from the ceremony, sure...but actually arrest them? That's a bit too much.

I understand the other side of things--with 500 graduates, the ceremony can run a bit long. And I know that some family members and friends go overboard themselves, totally drowning out the next name called. But do the district authorities really expect this?
Russell Booker, superintendent of York schools, said family and friends are encouraged to cheer at designated times during the ceremony.
Yeah, that'll happen.

But no matter how you might feel about cheering vs. not cheering...isn't there a better solution than arresting the offenders?

Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy, where again, the commenters are all over the map. Some talk about etiquette; sure, the participants are dressed up (and the audience is encouraged to be, though that's far from universal in reality), but is graduation supposed to be as solemn as going to the symphony? Other commenters cite a possible racial/cultural angle, but I can't substantiate that, because I can't find any photographs of any of the detainees. My favorite quote is from commenter Pete Guither:
Please spare me the graduation ceremony where everyone has to be polite and sedate until all the students have crossed the stage. How boring. What's the point? Graduation is a celebration -- it should be celebrated. If managed properly, you can allow cheering and still get it done quickly.

Our college ceremony has cheering, students sometimes dancing across the stage, name readers with enthusiasm, and even the Commencement band gets in the act adding grace notes when a music major crosses the stage. Everyone has a good time, the families feel like their students have been treated as important individuals (and not some kind of assembly line product), and we get done in less than two hours, even with special speakers and a performance.

Schools that feel they have to manage the time by squelching the audience are making up for their own incompetence in running a Commencement ceremony.
Amen, brother. (I love the part about the music majors getting special recognition from the band.)

I'll let Volokh Conspirator Orin Kerr, the author of this VC post, have the last word:
I think this is a classic slippery slope problem. Imagine you let people cheer at graduation. It seems innocuous at first. People get used to it; it feels good. But the next thing you know, they'll start cheering at sporting events. Then they'll add in concerts. Then they'll cheer on their favorite contestants when watching American Idol. Before you know it, people will start expressing great joy all the time. Let's face it: Graduations are the gateway cheering event. I'm glad the cops are taking this seriously.
And I hope everyone can sense the "sarcasm" tags around Prof. Kerr's quote as well.

As always, feel free to contribute your own thoughts in the comments below.

Parents weren't cheering this action: A Chinese teacher has been fired for escaping from his school building ahead of his students during last month's earthquakes. (None of his students died in the quake, but many Chinese teachers gave their lives protecting their students.)

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