Student Barred from Graduation for Wrong Shoes

An outrage was averted by an act of kindness.

The Washington Post headline tells the story: “A student was barred from graduation for wearing the wrong shoes. So a teacher gave him the shoes off his own feet.” It is, on one hand, a tale of human kindness. But, fundamentally, it’s one of the cruelty of bureaucratic rigidity.

When Daverius Peters arrived at his high school graduation ceremony on May 19, he was immediately blocked from entering the convention center where it was being held.

Peters, 18, was wearing the mandatory purple cap and gown, but a school representative standing at the front door told him his shoe selection was wrong.

“She said my shoes violated the dress code and I couldn’t attend the ceremony unless I changed them,” said Peters, a senior at Hahnville High School in Boutte, La.

According to the school’s graduation dress code, male students were to wear dark dress shoes, with an emphasis that “no athletic shoes” were to be worn.

Peters showed up that day in black leather sneakers with white soles, and while they weren’t traditional dress shoes, “I thought I could wear them because they’re black,” he said, adding that he abided by the rest of the guidelines, which stipulated that students must wear a white dress shirt and tie, as well as dark dress pants.

When he was stopped from entering the front door, “I was in shock,” Peters recalled. “I felt humiliated. I just wanted to walk across the stage and get my diploma.”

Thankfully, John Butler, a paraeducator at the school who happened to be attending his own child’s graduation, was able to come to the rescue, literally giving him the shoes off his own feet.

But humiliating this kid, potentially forcing him to miss his graduation, because he had on the wrong shoes? What kind of system allows that?

Look, I’m more of a stickler about proper dress and decorum at these things than most. I find it more than a little annoying when people show up for commencement exercises in too-casual clothes or disregard the always-given but always-ignored instruction not to hoot and holler like they’re at a ball game.

But this kid wasn’t doing anything wrong. He probably didn’t even own a pair of dark dress shoes. And, apparently, they didn’t have a dress rehearsal (my younger stepdaughter had hers yesterday) so that they could have at least asked him if he did.

Beyond that, as his mother rightly notes, there have to be kids at the school who simply can’t afford to buy new shoes for a one-time event.

Although everything worked out in the end and Peters was able to get his diploma, Butler said the story underscored the school’s critical need to adjust the dress code.

“Something that small shouldn’t rob a kid from experiencing this major moment,” said Butler, who is planning to meet with school administrators to review the guidelines for future graduation ceremonies. “It’s something that needs to be thoroughly discussed.”

[…]

When Peters’s parents learned what happened, “we were very upset,” Smith said, adding that her son has chronic asthma and spent the majority of the academic year in remote school. “He worked so hard, and for someone to just rip that away from him, that was maddening to me.”

Her son genuinely believed that his footwear fit the dress code, she said, but “how about if I couldn’t afford to buy him the shoes? This is not just about him; this is about the people that come after him.”

Smith intends to address the matter with the school board to ensure it doesn’t happen to another student in the future.

“If it wasn’t for Mr. Butler’s kind and thoughtful act, my child would have been sitting outside, and I wouldn’t have known,” Smith said. “I pray he will continue to work in the public school system because we need more teachers like him. Our young Black men need good role models and mentors like Mr. Butler.”

That they do. But we need more thoughtful leadership, too. This act of kindness saved the day but shouldn’t have been necessary. Robbing Peters and his family of what was almost certainly the biggest moment of his young life would have been an outrage.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jen says:

    After the year kids have had, this strikes me as particularly ridiculous. Everything you’ve said is spot-on, but I’ll throw in the fact that many people lost income if not jobs during the pandemic and requiring kids to purchase specific items of clothing, is specious at best in a “normal” year and particularly idiotic during this last year.

    Humiliating the young man by singling him out…I just can’t even with this story.

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  2. George says:

    This strikes me as insane. And I guess what they’d call rich-privilege (ie the assumption that everyone can afford a pair of dress shoes that they’ll almost never wear.

    Seriously, how many families can afford to spend $100 on shoes that’ll be worn once?

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  3. KM says:

    Asshats gonna asshat. Petty powermongers who use dress codes to punish people and police their bodies. Some folks have nothing better to do then use rules to hurt people right up to the last second.

    Women get hit with this all the time; stories like these are actually pretty common as young women don’t tend to have whatever fancy white dress shoe the rules arbitrarily demand and some older woman in the crowd ends up shoeless so they can walk. I know several teacher who actually pack extra shoes and clothes for special occasions like graduations *specifically* because they know this is gonna happen. It was recommended to me early in my counselor training that if I worked with kids to always keep a pair of ballet flats and a scarf in my bag just in case you need to help modify someone’s “unacceptable” outfit when the fashion police come looking for someone to victimize. Women tend to wear strappy sandals this time of year as weather dictates and some of them are fancier, more expensive and frankly nicer looking than traditional dress shoes and heels but nooo, rules lawyers will fight you on it and ruin your special day that you’ve worked years for solely because they can.

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  4. Mu Yixiao says:

    @KM:

    Women get hit with this all the time

    This was my first thought when I read the post. I was surprised that it was a boy that got hit with this bullshit.

    There was an article earlier this week about a teacher editing photos of girls in the yearbook to make them more “modest”.

    Part of me wants to laugh when I hear the reasoning for this: “We don’t want them distracting the boys!”. They’re teenage boys. You could dress the girls in burqas and the boys would still be distracted.

    My favorite when they use this as an excuse to push for school uniforms. Waitaminnit… you think that the girls are dressing too sexy so…. your solution is to put them all in what is probably the #1 fetish outfit?! Yeah… plaid skirts and knee socks won’t be distracting to those boys at all!

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  5. Mister Bluster says:

    @Mu Yixiao:..Yeah… plaid skirts and knee socks won’t be distracting to those boys at all!

    Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?

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  6. George says:

    @KM:

    Men get hit with this too, though considerably less than women. For men its typically related to shoes (beats me why, who looks at someone’s feet?), suits (ie requirements to wear them even if its a hot day outside — and most men people don’t have the funds to buy separate suits for each kind of weather), and ties. Ties are the single most stupid article of clothing I can think of — you’re basically wearing a slip-knot around your neck. I’m surprised they haven’t been outlawed as a health hazard, and I can’t imagine who first thought, “Hey, let’s walk around with nicely coloured nooses around our necks.” Was the idea to make it easier to hang someone if the need arises, save money on ropes?

    High school boys get it mainly over t-shirts (ie what’s written on them) and cut-offs (you’d think recycling pants into shorts would be considered environmentally friendly, but many schools seem to think otherwise).

    But women have it far worse. Men at least can wear the same suit every day of the year, women get heavily criticized if they wear the same one two days in a row.

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  7. Kathy says:

    @George:

    Ties are the single most stupid article of clothing I can think of

    Absolutely.

    While I can understand bow ties, I think men sorely lack a business and formal look with a different neckline than buttoned up to the throat, with everything else deemed casual.

    [..]women get heavily criticized if they wear the same one two days in a row.

    That’s enough of a big deal it was the premise of a Seinfeld episode.

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  8. just nutha says:

    @KM:

    Asshats gonna asshat.

    Very true. In my first teaching job, I asked about implementing a policy on student conduct. The building principal told me that the policy was only for “going after the kids we don’t approve of.”

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  9. Mister Bluster says:

    @George:..(beats me why, who looks at someone’s feet?)

    Larry David In the Cinema

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  10. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: Bow ties are the ones that DON’T make sense to me. As I understand it–and I could certainly be wrong–men’s neckwear started out as a way to disguise whether the shirt being worn had buttons or thong ties and to hide that the buttons might not match.

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  11. Teve says:

    @George: Ties are garbage.

    My favorite style of dressing is basically a suit w/o a tie. And I wish I could dress like that here at work but I was told in the interview to dress down from my interview clothes to better appeal to the locals. 🙁 So it’s a polo, suit pants, and black Pegasus 37s.

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  12. Mister Bluster says:

    I have never learned how to tie a tie. I have worn clip on ties, bow ties or neckties, when I had to. Like when my parents forced me to go to church 60+ years ago. The last time was 15 (?) years ago. The only job I could get at the time was at the AT+T call center where I made cold calls trying to sell AT+T Long Distance telephone service. Cellphones weren’t ubiquitous yet. They actually paid you for two weeks of training before live sales calls. When word of that got out many folks signed on and then quit after the training as there was no obligation to stay on.
    The dress code required a tie or the AT+T polo shirt that they had for sale. I bought two of them the second day of training.
    I remember when this was as my friend Joe was still alive. He ragged me endlessly for taking the job as unsolicited sales calls to his phone annoyed him to no end.
    The call center was a big deal when it opened as it provided a lot of jobs. It lasted for several years but eventually succumed to offshore call centers and expanding cell phone service.
    When it finally shut down I had to gig Joe.
    I showed him the front page headline of the local sheet and said: “Here’s a bunch of people out of work that should make you happy…”
    AT+T Call Center Closes-600 Jobs Lost
    He just groaned.
    ———
    ETA: 15 minute edit window after one page reload.

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  13. Mu Yixiao says:

    @George:

    and I can’t imagine who first thought, “Hey, let’s walk around with nicely coloured nooses around our necks.”

    My ancestors. 😀

    The original purpose in many cultures is to protect the neck from sun. It, of course, became a way to show off a little. When Western Europeans saw the Hrvats (literally “Croatian people”), they liked the look and brought it back home as the cravat. It evolved over time to the modern necktie.

    And it’s one of only two things we’ve given to the world–the other being a mad genius (Nikola Tesla).

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  14. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “your solution is to put them all in what is probably the #1 fetish outfit?! Yeah… plaid skirts and knee socks won’t be distracting to those boys at all!”

    Not that I disagree with your major points, but do you think the school uniform is really a fetish outfit for teenage boys? I’d imagine it would appeal to middle-aged men thinking back on school days and much younger women. For kids in school, it’s just the thing all the girls are wearing…

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @Teve:

    polo

    The polo shirt is the single worst piece of clothing. Basically no one looks good in them. A casual button down, untucked, looks way better for most, without looking formal.

    Ties, on the other hand, can add a dash of color to a suit, and are very slimming.

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  16. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “And it’s one of only two things we’ve given to the world–the other being a mad genius (Nikola Tesla).”

    And Marin Cilic.

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  17. grumpy realist says:

    @Mu Yixiao: The story I heard was that there was a delegation to the court of Louis XIV, from which it was picked up and popularised. Also that there was a superstition in the area that the delegation was from that wearing a red kerchief around your neck would protect you from harm, hence why they had shown up with the cravats…

    (But bowties? “Bowties are cool.”)

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  18. Kathy says:

    @just nutha:

    How many buttons need to be hidden today?

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  19. grumpy realist says:

    @KM: My roommate from college and I decided to dress up for graduation, both of us wearing white dresses we had made, white sandals, and little white gloves. So of course it rained….

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  20. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: The same number as “needed” to be hidden then? IRL, probably zero; in style life, whatever number the movers and shakers of the culture decide.

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  21. Joe says:

    @wr:

    For kids in school, it’s just the thing all the girls are wearing…

    But to Mu Yixiao‘s point, its the girls who are distracting to the boys (and vice versa), not what they are wearing.

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  22. Mu Yixiao says:

    @wr:

    Not that I disagree with your major points, but do you think the school uniform is really a fetish outfit for teenage boys?

    I don’t think the teen boys would think of it as a fetish, per se. But they definitely like it; skirts that show lots of leg and white blouses that might give a glimpse of a bra underneath? Oh yeah, they like it. It’s almost as good as cheerleader outfits.

    But again: the girls could be wearing burqas and the boys would be distracted.

    On a tangent: When I was in China a saw a woman in a burqa–which was teal and finely tailored to her (very nice) shape. Yep… a sexy burqa. One of the things I never thought I’d see.

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  23. Mu Yixiao says:

    Origin of the cravat:

    It was in Europe, in the year 1630, in Paris, at the line up of Croatian mercenaries from the military frontier under French service, Croatians were presented to King Louis the 13th as glorious warriors among the troops. What caught the King’s fashionable eye was a piece of cloth…which we now call a tie. Croats wore it proudly, and only they knew why.

    Here is why they wore a cravat around their necks:

    It is said that when the Croatian armies were battling on the fields of the valleys below, the wives would look down from the hills above. In order to distinguish their loved ones from the others, their wives would create ornately decorated red ties of cloth for the men to wear around their necks. This way, the wives could watch and follow their progress in battle.

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  24. Mister Bluster says:

    @Gustopher:..The polo shirt is the single worst piece of clothing.

    911! Call the Fashion Police! Major violator on the loose!
    Polo shirts are all I ever wear anymore. Solid colors. Mostly black. No embroidery. I get XL and tuck them in. When I turn sideways and look in the mirror black shirts hide my paunch more than blue or gray. Gotta’ have a pocket. As I tell the sales help at Kohl’s “I need a place to put my $50 bills.” If I could find one of these with the sleeping alligator* at a thrift shop for $5 0r $10 I’d pick it up. I’m not paying $85 for a shirt that’s too small.

    *Maybe the the gator is dead. I don’t know. I just don’t want PETA or Izod Lacoste after me too!

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  25. Mu Yixiao says:

    @George:

    For men its typically related to shoes, suits, and ties.

    Meanwhile… I am, right now, looking at our CEO (a man) standing in the hallway wearing shorts, sandals, and a Hawaiian shirt. 🙂 Our CFO (a woman) regularly comes in wearing jeans, shit-kickers, and leather biker jacket.

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  26. EddieInCA says:

    @Dr.Joyner

    I find it more than a little annoying when people show up for commencement exercises in too-casual clothes ……

    This story resonates with me tremendously. And I’m sorry, Dr. Joyner. I was that kid who never had the nice stuff and had to suffer the looks of people like you. I meant that anecdotally not directly at you.

    I wanted to have nicer shoes.
    I wanted to have more than one white dress shirt and one tie.
    I wanted to have more than one, ill-fitting, hand-me-down suit.
    I wanted to have sneakers that didn’t have holes in the soles covered with leather and duct tape from the inside.

    But my mom was doing the best she could. I suffered that humiliation quite a bit. It stays with you.

    The irony is that now that I can afford pretty much anything I want, I still shop at thrift stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army on a regular basis.

    There is a special place in hell for an administrator that would do that to a child at his graduation. And had anyone done that to me at that age in front of my mother, my mom would be in jail for assault.

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  27. EddieInCA says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Meanwhile… I am, right now, looking at our CEO (a man) standing in the hallway wearing shorts, sandals, and a Hawaiian shirt. Our CFO (a woman) regularly comes in wearing jeans, shit-kickers, and leather biker jacket.

    I just finished a scout for a new facility. Our Showrunner, a woman, showed up in sweats, flip-flops, and a tank top. Our Production Designer was in cargo shorts, t-shirt and sandals. Our DP was in sweats, high top Nikes, and a hoodie. I was the best dressed in a track suit and Nikes.

    The two brokers showed up in ties and sportcoats

    Different worlds.

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  28. Mu Yixiao says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Well… it helps that the company I work for was founded by a guy who walked around in shorts and Birkenstocks. Hmmm… considering your business, you probably know the company. We’re the guys lighting you up. 🙂

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  29. George says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I can see the neck protection — scarfs are very useful in winter for example. But why the slip knot? I’ve never had the urge to tie my scarf on with one.

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  30. Mu Yixiao says:

    @George:

    The original ones didn’t necessarily have a slip knot.

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  31. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    A casual button down, untucked, looks way better for most, without looking formal.

    Chacun a son gout. I don’t think anyone who isn’t a professional model has ever looked good in an untucked dress shirt.

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  32. Mu Yixiao says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Hawaiian shirts and linen shirts can’t be tucked in. It’s just wrong. Otherwise I agree.

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  33. George says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    That seems very likely. But I wonder who came up with the bright idea to turn it into a slip knot? Its seems like an accident waiting to happen, and in fact I have heard of people dying when ties got caught up in machinery. Clip on ties (if you have to wear a tie) make a lot more sense.

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  34. Mu Yixiao says:

    @George:

    But I wonder who came up with the bright idea to turn it into a slip knot?

    You’re looking at it backwards.

    The cravat is short. It doesn’t hang down very far. And when it spread through Europe it was both a) something that the nobility and wealthy wore, and b) was before industrialization.

    The modern necktie has never been a staple of the working class (e.g., machine operators). And a tie getting caught in machinery isn’t going to choke you, it’s going to drag your head into the gears.

    You’re operating under the misguided idea that “slipknot = noose”.

    Put on a proper tie. Now grab either end and pull. It won’t choke you, it’ll just pull your head forward. In order to choke you, a machine would have to simultaneously grab and pull the small end of the tie, while also (somehow) grab the knot and force it upwards.

    Ain’t gonna happen.

    Source: 15 years as a professional rigger.

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  35. George says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I reluctantly admit that makes sense. I still hate ties though (and unfortunately sometimes have to wear them for work). I guess I’ll have to replace my “noose” reason with something else 🙂

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  36. Teve says:

    @EddieInCA:

    The irony is that now that I can afford pretty much anything I want, I still shop at thrift stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army on a regular basis.

    I was desperately poor in college. Here we are 15 years later and I make good money now but I still go to the grocery store websites and look at the BOGO sales and just buy from those items every week. I buy shirts from Sandy’s all the time. Poverty gets in your bones.

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  37. Teve says:

    The cravat is short. It doesn’t hang down very far. And when it spread through Europe it was both a) something that the nobility and wealthy wore, and b) was before industrialization.

    I ❤️ this website.

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  38. Jen says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    And a tie getting caught in machinery isn’t going to choke you, it’s going to drag your head into the gears.

    Indeed. This is why most paper shredding machines come with an illustration that warns of ties getting caught in the gears…it happened quite frequently.

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  39. Dutchgirl says:

    So I studied fashion history, worked in historical costuming, and still research and make historical costumes. My friends, you have made my day with your discussion of the neck tie. As for where and how the cravat, which is widely regarded as the grandparent of the modern tie in the West, was first developed, historians are not entirely certain. I could write a whole essay on the topic, but I will spare you all the analysis of the development of the falling collar to replace the starched ruff, the value of lace and the development of lace making machines, etc.

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