Illinois high school refuses to let Marine walk for graduation over dress code

An Illinois high school has come under fire after officials refused to let a graduate, who is also a U.S. Marine, walk across the stage Thursday in her blues.

Marine Corps Pvt. Megan Howerton technically finished up her studies at McHenry West High School early in order to start her career as a Marine, WLS-TV reported. But when she returned to the school to join her classmates at graduation, she wasn’t allowed to walk with her class.

"Megan has always been very determined to do what's right, and I think she felt that the military was a calling for her," Grace Rodriguez, McHenry West graduate, told WLS-TV.

The school said its decision to refuse Howerton to walk for graduation because she wore her blues instead of the traditional cap and gown.

"The district and administration in no way looked to prevent the participation of this graduate or any graduate who has chosen to serve our nation,” the school said in a statement. "Rather, the administration communicated in advance via letter, senior meeting, and practice, all the protocols expected of graduates, including attire. In some past cases, active-duty students elected to wear their gowns over top of their military uniforms, with their military hats, which was allowed.

“There was no communication to the administration that attire protocols would not be followed prior to the ceremony. The tradition of cap and gown regalia is aimed at the idea that our graduates are celebrated as a whole and in similar attire.”

According to the Northwest Herald, Howerton said in a statement released by the Corps that she was informed of the district’s policy.

"I do not want the controversy that is saturating social media, and I do not want to draw attention away from the class of 2016," Howerton stated. "That being said, it was my choice not to participate in the graduation."

Nellie Weiss, a former student at McHenry West, told that the school starts its day by “pledging allegiance, and when a student does pledge allegiance to her country wearing her dress blues she was just shot down.”

Cole Petty, a student at the school, defended the school’s decision not to left Howerton walk.

"Rules are rules, but just because she's in the military doesn't mean you can break them. The Marines stand for rules and order, so she should follow those rules and order since she's fighting for them,” he said.

Sgt. Trevon Peracca, the marketing and public affairs representative for Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Chicago said in a statement to the Northwest Herald that the Corps recognized there are guidelines for graduation dress code.

"As high school graduations recognize the academic accomplishments of the class and the class's final chapter at that institution, the decision to allow individuals to wear uniforms during graduations is at the discretion of the school," Peracca said

Colin Brennan, an active-duty Marine and McHenry West class of 2014 graduate, said in a letter posted on the school district’s website that his dress code was the cap and gown because it wasn’t a military event.

"It is unfair to the district to be looked at so negatively by the entire community for following a rule," Brennan said.

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