Wendy Paris couldn’t be prouder of her son Trey, 18, after he graduated from West Bladen High School with the class of 2018 and volunteered to join the military.
"He will be in international intelligence," Wendy said. “His grandfather is retired from the military, his uncle, my niece. We have a lot of family in the military."
But Wendy’s joy turned to outrage after she says a school policy punished Trey for displaying his commitment to military service.
A school administrator took Trey and his friend’s diplomas after the graduation ceremony because they wore military cords, going against the school’s policy that only approved cords can be worn, according to Wendy.
"I'm proud of the boys for taking a stand," said Wendy. "Those kids have worked hard to earn those cords, and they should be able to wear them."
Trey was given the military cord by Sgt. Polland, a recruiter. Wendy said her son spoke with school staff before the ceremony to try and get permission to wear the military cord, but the school did not approve the cord.
"They asked on Thursday and were warned by Ms. Kelly, the senior adviser, not to wear them," said Wendy.
But he and his friend decided to wear the cord anyway at the graduation ceremony.
“Trey and his friend Desmond, who both had military cords, just decided that they worked hard for it and they were going to wear them," said Wendy. "None of us, the family, knew anything about what had happened or transpired until after the fact."
After the diplomas were taken away, Wendy said she began looking into the cord policy and now believes it is not fair.
“A child going through their whole school life, trying and working hard to get these awards and cords and honors, and then to look at them and say, 'Sorry, Joe over here, he can wear his. We approve that one, but Sally, she can’t,'" said Wendy. "It’s no different. They’re all earned. They worked for them, and they deserve to wear them because sadly, after Friday night, they’re all going into somebody’s closet or a drawer.”
A spokesperson with Bladen County Schools declined our request for an on-camera interview, but did send an email statement in response to questions.
“Nationally recognized Academic cords are the only cords allowable or permissible during high school graduation,” the statement reads. “These guidelines serve as a function of a school’s legitimate interest in celebrating academic achievement and showing class unity.”
The West Bladen High School graduation guidelines, including cord specifications, were sent in an email, paper letter, and read aloud to students multiple times, according to the statement.
“Any group or organization can provide a cord for any reason, and students are allowed to wear such other cords at Baccalaureate and awards programs, but not during the official graduation ceremony,” the statement reads.
Cords and stoles that are allowed during the official graduation ceremony include honors like summa cum laude, CTE completers, National Art Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society, and National Beta student.
“Refusal to comply with the published graduation guidelines can justify excluding a student from the graduation ceremony or from receiving their diploma on the day of graduation,” the statement reads.
“While not allowing a student to wear a military cord may lead to the perception that we are not patriotic … this could not be further from the truth,” the statement continues. “Our mission, in part, is to develop responsible citizens. We cannot think of a more responsible citizen than the ones who select to or are chosen to serve the United States of America.”
On Monday morning, Wendy went back to West Bladen High School to get her son’s diploma back.
Wendy wants to make sure that others don't have to experience her family's pain, and she wants the policy changed.
“It was kind of a slap in the face. ... I’m going to make sure these kids don’t have this problem again because it’s wrong," said Wendy. “I don’t have a problem with rules and policies, but some of them are ridiculous. ... They need to get rid of their cord policy."
(Correction note: A previous version of this story stated that the military cord was given to Trey by a JROTC Commander. The school nor the JROTC did not give the military cord to Trey; the enlisting officer gave the cord to Trey. The school does not distribute military cords.)
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