COLUMBIA, S.C. – When school officials in Rock Hill, South Carolina, tell graduation ceremony crowds to hold their applause until the end, they mean it — Police arrested seven people after they were accused of loud cheering during the ceremonies.
Six people at Fort Mill High School's graduation were charged Saturday and a seventh at the graduation for York Comprehensive High School was charged Friday with disorderly conduct, authorities said. Police said the seven yelled after students' names were called.
"I just thought they were going to escort me out," Jonathan Orr told The Herald of Rock Hill. "I had no idea they were going to put andcuffs on me and take me to jail."
Orr, 21, spent two hours in jail after he was arrested when he yelled for his cousin at York's commencement at the Winthrop University Coliseum.
Rock Hill police began patrolling commencements several years ago at the request of school districts who complained of increasing disruption. Those attending graduations are told they can be prosecuted for bad behavior and letters are sent home with students, said Rock Hill police spokesman Lt. Jerry Waldrop.
All the cases, except for one that includes a resisting arrest charge, will be handled in city court and are punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Orr said he thinks people should be allowed to cheer.
"For some people, it might be the only member of their family to graduate high school, and it was like a funeral in there," Orr said.
William Massey, 19, was arrested but said he plans to fight the charge. He said he simply "clapped and gave a little whoop" when his fiancee's name was called. Massey said there were warnings before the ceremony but none that said he could be arrested.
He said not everyone who cheered was arrested.
"There's a lot more people that did it than six or seven," said Massey, who graduated from Fort Mill last year.
Fort Mill Principal Dee Christopher says school officials don't ask that offenders be arrested but that he plans to keep a police presence at future graduation ceremonies.
"We think it's important for every graduate's name to be heard and for every person in the arena to be able to see that student cross the stage. ... That's why we have disruptive guests removed," he said.
Last year in Galesburg, Illinois, five students were denied diplomas from the city's lone public high school after enthusiastic friends or family members cheered for them during commencement. Students could get their diplomas after completing eight hours of public service for the school district.