Bearded High School Valedictorian, Banned From Graduation, Gets His Ceremony

By Chika Dunu, Epoch Times
June 17, 2016 Updated: June 20, 2016

Amite High School valedictorian Andrew Jones—thanks to local officials— is getting the ceremony he was denied.

Jones was denied participation rights to his graduation, despite his stellar academic record, for having facial hair. Now Democratic state Rep. Katrina Jackson of Monroe, Louisiana, and the Rev. Roosevelt Wright III of New Orleans have decided to sponsor a ceremony for Andrew Jones after hearing about his story.

“Mr. Jones maintained a 4.0 grade point average, participated in football and basketball while also working part-time,” said Jackson in an email. “He had a beard all year long, and it was not an issue.

Jackson said the school board had not enforced the facial hair rule in previous years and they didn’t enforce it with other graduates this year.

“That is very unfortunate, and we’re going to give him the opportunity to experience the graduation that he worked hard to achieve,” she said.

Reverend Wright III wants to instill a sense of pride into Jones for his academic hardwork.

“Despite public perception, this incredible young man has reached abnormal scholastic heights. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to be properly honored,” he said in an email to Epoch Times. “We want him to understand that people everywhere are proud of his academic performance having maintained 4.0 consistently for 4 consecutive years as well as being his school’s leading athlete.”

Wright III added, “He should march forward with dignity and pride. We did not orchestrate this event because he broke a rule. We orchestrated the event so that a rule doesn’t break him.”

The sponsored celebration is scheduled for June 17 at 7 p.m. at the African-American Heritage Museum in Hammond. Students from Amite High School graduating class are expected to attend.

Jones of Amite, Louisiana, had a perfect academic record and was named student of the year. He was also a star athlete at Amite High School, where he starred on the school’s basketball and football team. On the day of graduation, he learned that he wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the ceremony.

“They told me they had to take my gown from me,” he told WWL-TV of the day’s events.

According to Jones, the facial hair policy has never been enforced and said other classes allowed students to have beards during graduation.

“It don’t make sense, every day of school I went with it, even more, I did shave,” Jones said, “I had like sides and everything, but I shaved that for graduation.”

This fall, he will attend Southern Louisiana University, where he earned both athletic and academic scholarships. 

The dress code policy, found in the Student Handbook for grades 4-12, states the following:

“Hairstyles and mustaches shall be clean, neatly groomed and shall not distract from the learning environment nor be a safety factor for any of the school’s curricular offerings. Beards will not be allowed. Any hairstyle that distract from the unique environment of a school shall be dealt with by the principal or his/her designee of that school.”

Tangipahoa Schools Superintendent Mark Kolwe said Jones and his family were told about the policy at least three times, including on the day of the ceremony.

In the grand scheme of things, facial hair wasn’t worth the denial of entrance into the graduation ceremony, according to aunt, Sabrina Davis.

“What was the real issue that he couldn’t walk with his class?” Davis said to WWL-TV. “He was top of his class, you know, that moment was the most important moment of his life.”