The request of Gilbert high school student Kevyn Barton to walk at graduation seems rather easy to his family — the 18-year-old senior has completed his course work as expected by his teachers and he wants to join his friends and peers.
But Kevyn isn’t actually graduating this spring. As Tribune writer Hayley Ringle reported last week, Kevyn is a special needs student with mental disabilities that will keep him in high school until he automatically graduates at age 22. And that situation creates more a difficult question for the Gilbert Unified School District.
Highland High School can easily accommodate one more student in its graduation ceremony, and Kevyn’s inability to graduate after four years certainly is no fault of his own. But would allowing Kevyn to join the graduation ceremony now dilute the importance of this event and set a bad precedent?
As district officials weigh their natural compassion against the need to maintain standards, one thing should be clear — Kevyn will walk for graduation just once. It is this universal requirement for high school students that has made graduation such as a memorable rite of passage. Ask any college graduate who has earned several degrees over time, and you’ll learn how multiple graduation ceremonies degrade their value and emotional impact.
Schools everywhere should adjust rules when the standards for typical students simply make no sense for those with special needs. For students such as Kevyn, one accommodation could be to let the student and family choose which graduation ceremony to participate in.
This choice wouldn’t be as simple as it sounds. Some special needs students might not have the mental capacity to understand the special role of graduation and they would only know they can’t join each year in an event that’s so important to their classmates.
If Kevyn and his family accept that he wouldn’t be back on the graduation stage sometime in the next four years, then the school district should be comfortable with letting him walk in a couple of months.