All she wanted was for her son, Josh Stinson, to be able to wear a red, white, and blue cord with his cap and gown for graduation to honor and signify that he had enlisted to serve his country in the Marine Corps.
But the James Monroe High School Administration told his mother, Toni Stinson, that it would not be allowed. The issue came up at Monday's Fredericksburg School Board meeting when Toni Stinson spoke out during the public comment portion of the meeting at the high school.
Josh, a senior, followed in the footsteps of three generations before him when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He is scheduled to attend boot camp at Parris Island in September. Toni Stinson had hoped that James Monroe Principal John Gordon would allow Josh, along with the four other graduating students who had enlisted in the military, to wear the Honor Cord during their commencement. After meeting with the vice-principal, and then with Gordon, she was told that Josh could not wear the cord because they did not want to set the precedent of students being honored for future plans and that the cords, and any other regalia, were specifically for sanctioned school achievements.
The Honor Cords are worn by graduating seniors during the commencement ceremony to signify that they have achieved special academic and/or extra-curricular honors.
Toni Stinson said to School Board members that she was told by the administration that signing up to serve his country was not a “school sanctioned activity nor an achievement made during high school,” and therefore they would not allow him to wear the patriotic cord. She pointed out that the school allows military recruiters to meet with students on school grounds and that the school encourages students to be contributing members of society. She said that when a young person commits to serving their country, they should be recognized, even if it breaks tradition. She said Fredericksburg has had deep ties to the military dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Toni Stinson said during an interview that the school recognizes students for many other achievements. For example, Josh was recognized last year for Boys State.
“We are recognizing that, why wouldn’t we recognize someone who had raised their hand to defend this country?” she said. She clarified that she was not pursuing this just for her son, but for all the young men and women who were volunteering to serve in the military.
In both an interview after the School Board meeting and in an email to Toni Stinson later that evening, Gordon stated that despite Josh's mother's testimony Monday night, he would not reconsider his decision. Gordon said that he recognizes the students who are enlisting during his graduation speech by having them all stand at once, but admitted that they are not recognized individually during the commencement ceremony. He reiterated in his email to Toni Stinson that he did not want to set the precedent of having students wear academic regalia for future events and that most other high schools have this same policy. During an interview, Gordon said that recognizing students who sign up for the military would be the same as recognizing all the students who attend the University of Virginia or Virginia Tech, which they do not do.
“Joining the military is not a school-sponsored event,” said Gordon.
Josh said he thought there should be something better than just having a group of people who had enlisted stand up during graduation to recognize those who were committing to serve. He said that the fact that the school had a recruiter come to his first period class contributed to his decision to join the Marines. Josh and all the graduating students in the Fredericksburg area will be honored instead at a June 4 ceremony sponsored by Our Community Salutes, a nonprofit organization. The organization was formed in 2009 to recognize and honor high-school students who plan to enlist in the military right after graduation. U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman has been invited to attend, but has not yet committed to be there.
At the end of the meeting, School Board Chairman and Rev. Jarvis Bailey emphasized that several members of the board served in or had family members serving in the military and that while the board was “very patriotic,” the issue of the cord wearing was handled at the “building level," meaning Principal Gordon has the final say.