Entries in Graduation (22)


Tornado-Damaged Oklahoma Town Holds High School Graduation Ceremonies

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOORE, Okla.) -- Graduation ceremonies were held Saturday for students from three high schools in an Oklahoma community ravaged by a monstrous tornado, marking a bittersweet end to a week that brought fatalities and unfathomable destruction.

Three highs schools in the Moore Public Schools system -- Westmoore, Southmoore and Moore high schools -- held back-to-back ceremonies Saturday at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.

Students who lost their caps, gowns and tassels in the tornado were given replacements free of charge so they could still participate in the rite of passage and walk in their ceremony.

Seven tornadoes had hit the area during the lifespan of the class of 2013, but many of the graduates said they planned to stay in the area as they moved on to the next chapters of their lives.

The graduation ceremonies came in the midst of the first of the private funerals being held for the 24 people, including seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary School, who were killed in Monday's tornado.

"What was started off as a normal day at Plaza Towers turned into horrible, horrible thing for seven families," principal Amy Simpson said on Friday, as she recalled the massive twister that decimated the school.

"So many of us survived that day, because the teachers were able to act quickly, stay calm and take literally the weight of a wall," she said.

For Becky Flood, who lives one block from the school, the young lives lost were the most heartwrenching effect of the tornado.

"The hard part is having friends that've lost their kids," she said. "I know what it is to lose a child. I lost a daughter three years ago."

Emergency calls from the harrowing moments during the twister were released on Friday, capturing the terror felt by residents as they sought shelter.

"A tornado just hit us we're trapped in a closet ... we can't get out," a caller said.

"Are you injured?" the dispatcher asked.

"No, we just can't breathe," the caller replied.

Amid the loss and destruction, one woman received a glimmer of hope just in time for Memorial Day Weekend, when a group of volunteers found and returned her father's American flag, which had been saved from his time serving in the Korean War.

On Sunday, President Obama is scheduled to visit the devastated community to meet with victims and first responders. A public memorial service is also scheduled for Sunday evening at the First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla.

Gov. Mary Fallin's office said 4,500 seats were available to the public on a first come, first served basis at the church, but the response is expected to be so overwhelming that overflow seating is being made available at Westmoore High School.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Oklahoma Valedictorian Denied Diploma After Using 'Hell' in Her Speech

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(PRAGUE, Okla.) -- The father of a recent high school graduate in Oklahoma who has been denied a diploma because she said "hell" in her valedictorian speech has accused her principal of bullying his daughter.

"She became a senior and he constantly picked on her," Kaitlin Nootbaar's father, David, said of Prague High School principal David Smith. "I thought bullying wasn't supposed to be allowed in school."

Neither Smith nor superintendent Rick Martin responded to messages asking them to comment.

In her speech, Kaitlin, 18, told her Prague, Okla., audience about how she has changed her mind numerous times about potential career choices, her father said.

He said Kaitlin spoke of how she once wanted to be a nurse when she was younger, but then wanted to become a vet. She summarized her dilemma, her father said, with, "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times."

The teen told her parents she drew inspiration for her speech from the movies Eclipse, which is the third installment of The Twilight Saga film series, and The Hunger Games.

Eclipse includes a graduation scene in which the speaker says, "Who the hell knows."

Kaitlin's speech was met with laughter and applause, her father said. The class valedictorian walked the stage and graduated along with the rest of her class.

Her transcripts were sent on to Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford and life went on as usual until she and her father went to collect her diploma from the high school office last week.

"The principle shut the door on us," David Nootbaar said, "and told us she [Kaitlin] will type apology letters to him, the school board, the superintendent and all of the teachers," in order for her to obtain her diploma.

Kaitlin has told her parents she does not intend to write the apology letters but, her father said, still believes she is entitled to the diploma.

The straight-A student who has "never received a B in her life," her father said, is now enjoying her first days at college at Southwestern Oklahoma State.

She has decided to major in biology, her dad said, to become a marine biologist -- for now.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NY Principal Nixes Performance of "God Bless the USA" at Graduation

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A principal in New York City has caused a stir after canceling a performance of Lee Greenwood's patriotic song "God Bless the U.S.A." at a kindergarten graduation.

According to the New York Post, the PS 90 principal, Greta Hawkins, thought the opening lines "If tomorrow all the things were gone/I’d worked for all my life/And I had to start again/with just my children and my wife" were a little too dark for 5-year-olds to sing.

She also reportedly said they didn't want to offend people of other cultures at the ceremony.  New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott is standing by the principal's decision, and now Lee Greenwood himself is stepping in.

He released a statement Monday saying he wrote "God Bless the U.S.A." about the love he has for America and struggle to remain free.

Greenwood continues, "Our country was founded on the principle that it welcomes people of all cultures and gives them the same rights we have as citizens.  However, I feel compelled to echo the faith or our forefathers who all believed in God and a respect of a higher authority."

He goes on to say that denying the children at PS 90 the right to sing "God Bless the U.S.A." offends him as a Christian.

"My song is about hope, faith, spirit and pride," Greenwood explains.  "How could that be wrong on any level?"

Reportedly, the principal was going to let the kids sing the Justin Bieber hit "Baby" instead, but the New York Post says that plan has been dropped after it was criticized.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


97-Year-Old High School Dropout Gets Diploma

In this screenshot provided by Fox8, Ann Colagiovanni, 97, receives an honorary diploma at Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio.(SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio) -- A 97-year-old Ohio woman who dropped out of high school during the Depression to help support her family finally received her diploma this week at the same high school she once attended.

Ann Colagiovanni, who arrived in America with her parents on a boat from Sicily in the early 1900s, dropped out of high school in 1931 when her father asked her to help at the family’s butcher shop. She never returned to high school, according to Peggy Caldwell, director of communications for the Shaker Heights, Ohio, school district.

Years later, as her grandson Thomas prepared to graduate from Shaker Heights, Colagiovanni received a surprise: her old high school would present her with an honorary degree marked with the date 1934, the year she would have graduated had she not dropped out.

“It is very rare, and it’s honorary,” Caldwell said. “We can’t stand up there and say she got all the requirements, but you could tell it meant a lot to her. She kept looking at it pointing and saying ‘That’s my name on there! That’s my name!’”

Colagiovanni’s daughter, Emilia Colagiovanni Vinci, arranged for her mother to receive the diploma at the same graduation as Emilia’s son. The school held a private ceremony for the grandmother on Wednesday, with the superintendent dressed in full academic robe, and then Colagiovanni wore her graduation gown to her grandson’s larger ceremony on Thursday.

“She came to her grandson’s graduation in her wheelchair with her little cap and gown on,” Caldwell said. “She’s just adorable.”

At the small ceremony just for her, Colagiovanni talked about growing up during the Depression, wearing the same dress to school everyday because she could not afford another one, Caldwell said. She would wash the dress every night and iron it each morning, hoping it would wear out so she could buy a new one.

Emilia Colagiovanni brought her mother’s old yearbooks, showing the students the "brand new, state-of-the-art" high school that had been built for them in the 1930s. That building, which Shaker Heights students still use today, is now considered old and outdated, Caldwell said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Abandoned Teen Graduates from Homeless Custodian to Harvard University

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C.) -- After returning from a prestigious academic summer program in Raleigh, N.C., last summer, Dawn Loggins found her parents had left. To complete her high school senior year, she began "couch-surfing" in friends' houses. She'd wake up at 5:20 a.m. each day, begin work as a school custodian, focus on a roster of advanced placement and honors courses, complete more custodial work and then hit the books.

The early mornings and late nights paid off. Now, she will graduate from Burns High School in Cleveland County, N.C. Next, she is headed to Harvard University.

Dawn spent much of her life moving frequently from one home to another and attending a number of different schools. Despite the circumstances, she said, she was committed to doing whatever was necessary to excel in school.

"Education is a means to make something better of myself," she told ABC News.

Dawn recalled having to do homework by candlelight because the power had been disconnected and having to cook noodles on a wood stove after her mother and stepfather lost their jobs. Focusing on her school work, she said, helped her deal with the family's circumstances. She had no idea what she might have to deal with next.

After she returned last summer to find her parents gone, she found she had no way to reach them because their phone services had been disconnected. Determined to complete her senior year at Burns, Dawn stayed for a few days at a time at the homes of friends until finally finding a home with Sheryl Kolton, a friend's mother who was also a custodian at the school. It would be a few months before she learned that her parents had gone to Tennessee for a visit and decided to stay.

Dawn's school year consisted of very long days. After cleaning for two hours, she would begin her school day of tough classes, including AP U.S. history, AP calculus, and honors English, and she participated in various school clubs and honor societies. After school and two more hours of cleaning work, she'd still have hours of homework, often keeping her up until midnight or 2 a.m. The late nights paid off as Dawn earned at 3.9 GPA and scored 2,110 on her SAT. She was committed to not just graduating high school, but finding a way to go to college.

"A high school diploma doesn't mean anything if you don't do anything with it," she said.

She began applying to colleges with the help of her counselor and a friend of the school's principal. She initially applied to Davidson College, North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Warner Wilson College. After the persistent urging of those helping her, she also applied to Harvard.

The acceptance letters started arriving, mostly in larger, thick envelopes. Then one day, an envelope arrived from Harvard.

"It was a small envelope; you never want a small envelope," she said.

But inside was a letter admitting Dawn into the Harvard class of 2016.

"I was kind of surprised," she said. "I didn't jump and down or scream or cry or anything, but I was happy. I guess I'm not easily exited. I'm not a very emotional person."

But Dawn wasn't so sure that she would be heading to Massachusetts -- not until she was able to visit this spring, thanks to school staff pooling their money to pay for her trip.

"After visiting Harvard, I couldn't see myself anywhere else," she said.

Dawn will receive financial aid from Harvard and get an on-campus job to help pay for tuition, room and board. She also has saved money from her job to help with books and other essentials.

As for her field of study, Dawn plans to major in biology and is considering a career in biomedical research. When asked what she is most looking forward to as she heads off to college, her reply was one word.

"Stability," she said.

Dawn reflected on her life growing up and said she just wants to be able support herself and not worry about losing power or not being able to buy food.

Even though her mother may not have been the best mom, she said, she still loves her parents. Both will be at her high school graduation.

Dawn wants to focus on her future, not her past, and hopes that she can motivate other students, like her two younger sisters, to further their education beyond high school in order to have a better life.

"I'm in a good place right now," she said. "I have a lot of community support."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cheering at Graduation Leads to Arrest, Diplomas Being Withheld

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cheering on family and friends at graduation ceremonies has become a risky proposition at schools around the country. Administrations have cracked down on celebrations; withholding diplomas from students and arresting parents who "misbehave" during commencement.

In Florence, S.C., mother Sharon Cooper was handcuffed and escorted out of the arena where daughter Iesha Cooper, 18, was graduating from high school last Saturday. The school had reportedly warned parents earlier that anyone who cheered or yelled during the roll call would be escorted from the building, and that people who were disorderly would be arrested.

"'Are you all serious? Are you all for real?' I mean, that's what I'm thinking in my mind," Cooper told WPDE, an ABC News affiliate."I didn't say anything. I was just like OK, I can't fight the law."

Cooper was placed in a police van and taken to a detention center for several hours before posting a $225 bond, according to the station. Cooper, who was charged with disorderly conduct, could not be reached for comment.

In Mount Healthy, Ohio, graduating senior Anthony Cornist was docked a diploma because his family and friends cheered too loudly as he walked across the stage during the graduation ceremony.

"It's crazy how someone can do that to you," said Cornist. "I didn't do nothing wrong, but walk across the stage."

Administrators from Mount Healthy high school and the school district did not return calls for comment.

In Tennessee, diplomas were withheld from at least 10 members of a graduating high school class not for cheering loudly, but for sitting quietly, albeit with loudly-decorated graduation caps. Administrators from McMinn County High School warned students that caps were not to be decorated, and students would be punished if the broke the rule.

"We're going to decorate our caps anyway because we paid for them," senior Brianna Carroll told news station WRCB in reaction to her high school's ban on cap decorations.

Some students were punished with 20 hours of community service in order to receive their diplomas. John Burroughs, principal of the school, told ABC News that the ban came from the superintendent. David Pierce, the district superintendent, did not return calls for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mother Charged After Cheering at Daughter's Graduation

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(FLORENCE, S.C.) -- Police arrested the mother of an 18-year-old student on Saturday during her daughter's graduation ceremony at South Florence High School.

Shannon Cooper told ABC news affiliate WDPE-TV she was escorted by police through the Florence Civic Center in full view of the crowd after cheering as her daughter walked across the stage to receive her diploma. Cooper is charged with disorderly conduct.

"Are ya'll serious? Are ya'll for real? I mean, that's what I'm thinking in my mind. I didn't say anything. I was just like OK, I can't fight the law. I can't argue with the police, but I'm like are you serious? I didn't do any more than the others did. Which I feel like no one should have went to jail," said Shannon Cooper.

Police declined comment on the arrest but said it was announced before the ceremony that anyone who screamed or cheered would be escorted out of the building.

Shannon Cooper says her daughter broke down crying after seeing her mother waiting in a police van outside the civic center.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bear Disrupts California School Graduation

Kim Rodriguez/Kern County Animal Control(BAKERSFIELD, Calif.) -- A black bear that disrupted a California school graduation Thursday has been released back into the wild, authorities said.

The 200-pound black bear was seen roaming the grounds near Ramon Garza Elementary School in Bakersfield, Calif. Kern County Animal Control officials used a Taser to subdue the bear.

A teacher noticed the bear and then alerted officials, ABC News affiliate KERO reported. A graduation ceremony was taking place at the time, according to the station.

Callers to 911 reported that the bear moved through the school’s campus parking lot before approaching a nearby apartment complex.

The school was later locked down.

Officials said it took about 30 minutes for animal control workers to get hold of the bear and that no one was injured during the incident, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Star Student in Immigration Flap Will Be Home for Graduation

Frankfort High School(FRANKFORT, Ind.) -- High school senior Elizabeth Olivas is coming home. After getting caught up on an immigration technicality in her native Mexico, the Frankfort Indiana High School homecoming queen will get to walk with her classmates at graduation on Saturday.

The U.S. State Department confirmed to her immigration lawyer, Sarah L. Moshe, that Olivas was given a visa to come back to the United States, Moshe told ABC News.

“The waiver was approved, and we just finished issuing and printing her visa,” an email from the State Department said.  “We gave her the visa packet and I assume she will be leaving the Consulate momentarily (visa in hand!).  Congrats and best of luck to Elizabeth and her family!  She is very lucky to have such a great team working on her behalf.”

Olivas has lived in the U.S. since age 4, and her father is a naturalized U.S. citizen. But after turning 18, according to the law, she had 180 days to return to Mexico to apply for a long-term visa to the United States.  Without that visa she would become an illegal immigrant. So she and her father took the trip down to the Juarez consulate, only to realize they counted dates wrong because of the leap year. Olivas was late by one day, initially told she would not be issued her long-term visa and, without a  “humanitarian parole” visa waiver, she would not be able to enter the United States again for three years.

But even the waiver process can be complicated. Waivers can take anywhere from three to eight months to be issued. Olivas couldn’t wait that long. She’d already been in Mexico for six weeks, missing most of her high school senior milestones, including prom and an academic achievement ceremony. With a near 4.0 grade point average, the star athlete is set to graduate as one of the top students at the school.  She is also supposed to give the salutation speech at graduation, which seemed unlikely before her case received a global outcry.

Frankfort High School Principal Steve Edwards told the Indianapolis Star that students were sad at the thought of Olivas not being with them for graduation and that the situation was one of the hardest things he’s ever dealt with.

“This is a very skilled, talented, beautiful young lady,” he said.

But now Olivas and her classmates will be able to celebrate both their graduation and her homecoming.  She told Moshe via text message that she was excited and grateful.


Moshe told ABC News Olivas and her family are grateful for all the attention and concern over the teen’s plight.

“We take this opportunity to thank everyone for the outpouring of support for Elizabeth and her family,” Moshe said. “She will certainly enjoy a well-deserved graduation celebration on Saturday!”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


American Student Stuck In Mexico Could Miss Graduation

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- High school senior Elizabeth Olivas thought she would be enjoying the last days at her Indiana high school with her classmates before graduating on Saturday.

Instead, the Frankfort High School homecoming queen is in her native Mexico, caught up in an immigration technicality that has her future in the United States straddled between U.S. government agencies, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Olivas has lived in the U.S. since age 4, and her father is a naturalized U.S. citizen. But after turning 18, according to the law, she had 180 days to return to Mexico to apply for a long-term visa to the United States. Without that visa she would become an illegal immigrant. So Olivas and her father took the trip down to the Juarez consulate, only to realize they were one day late.  Now she must wait three years before entering the country again, unless she receives a "humanitarian patrole" visa waiver.

According to the Star, Olivas’ tardiness in getting to Mexico was a combination of her wanting to miss as little school as possible and a date accounting error by her immigration lawyer.

Sarah Moshe, Olivas’ lawyer, told the paper that her firm did not take into account that this is a leap year. Many law firms use legal calendars as a way of tracking important dates that do not add the extra day in February.

“She feels awful, terrible, devastated,” Moshe said of the student. “The whole situation is crazy.”

Though visas are issued by the State Department, humanitarian parole waivers for those who have violated immigration law must be issued under the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizen and Immigration Services.

On Wednesday, deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said that the State Department can’t comment on specific individual visa issues, but in a case in which humanitarian parole is granted the State Department would “process an application as quickly as possible.”

Time is not on Olivas’s side. Waivers can take anywhere from three to eight months to be issued. A spokesperson for the Department of Citizen and Immigration Services in Dallas told the Star that Olivas will have to wait her turn.

She’s already waited in Mexico for six weeks, missing most of her high school senior milestones, including prom and an academic achievement ceremony. With a near 4.0 grade point average, Olivas will graduate as one of the top students at the school.  But now it seems unlikely that she will attend that graduation or get the chance to give a salutation speech about the bright future ahead for herself and her American classmates.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio