Diplomas Denied

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Graduation day at Galesburg High School in Illinois was supposed to be a moment of pride for seniors.

"It was important," said graduate Caisha Gailes. "I feel like I worked hard all these years just for that moment."

But as Gailes, an honor student, crossed the stage late last month to accept her diploma, the members of the audience cheered.

According to school administrators, this celebratory display for Gailes and four other students warranted punishment. They withheld the students' diplomas because family and friends violated a no-applause rule during the school's graduation ceremony.

"When I was walking across the stage that, I don't know, I had a big smile across my face," said graduate Nadia Trent.

Trent said her smile faded away as she heard the cheering because she knew the consequences.

Galesburg High School started the ban two years ago after some parents complained of rowdy behavior during that year's commencement.

"They had quite a bit of disruption -- real loud noisemakers, air horns," said Galesburg High School principal Tom Chiles.

In April, school officials sent a contract home for parents to sign. It warned of the consequences of cheering that could disrupt the ceremony.

The strict policy is not the only thing in question. Gailes and others question who was punished. Of the five students denied diplomas, all were minorities -- one Hispanic and the remainder African American.

"It doesn't matter how hard you work, you'll still get discriminated against," Gailes said.

Chiles dismissed the idea of discrimination. He said many other minorities graduated without incident.

"It's ludicrous," he said. "The last thing I want to do as an educator was upset someone on their commencement day."

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