ASHEBORO, NC – When ever Lopez decided to carry a mexican flag during his high school graduation, he hoped to support his culture. Lopez didn’t expect anyone to react strongly to it, but Lopez was denied his diploma because of the flag.
At Asheboro High School’s graduation ceremony on Thursday night, Lopez said he carried the flag inside and draped it over his shoulders as he sat. Lopez said he sat near teachers and no one mentioned the flag until he reached the podium.
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“I just have to represent,” Lopez explains, “I did it for my family. They came here to give me a better future.”
As the first to graduate in his immediate family, the ceremony held special significance for Lopez.
When his name was called, he stepped onto the stage, ready to receive his diploma. However, the director would not hand it over and spoke to him quietly while a line of students waited behind him. After a few seconds, he walked off stage without his diploma.
“I was very upset myself, and I had to control my emotions because we are in a public place. We had a lot of people watching us,” said Lopez’s cousin, Adolfo Hurtado.
Lopez said the administration told him he was a distraction, but a statement from Asheboro City Schools says he had no dress code.
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“The crux of the problem is the student’s failure to adhere to the established dress code for the event and detracted from the importance and solemnity of the ceremony,” a statement from Asheboro City Schools said. “Our dress code is in effect to ensure the dignity of the event is respected and is fair to all students. Graduation is a landmark event and it is extremely unfair for one person to diminish this event by violating the dress code.”
The school’s statement also said Lopez’s diploma denial was not about the Mexican flag and that other students had flags on their graduation caps and were not punished. Photos and records of the ceremony show other students wearing Mexican flag stoles, and those students receiving their diplomas.
An email that Principal Penny Crooks sent to the students prior to the ceremony explained the dress code, which stated that male students must wear a shirt and frock pants and female students must wear a dress, skirt or frock pants and that flip flops or tennis shoes are not allowed. The email also states that dress must comply with the school district dress code. The email and the school dress code do not state that flags are prohibited clothing and that students are not allowed to wear anything over their gowns.
After the ceremony, Lopez and his parents were called to Crooks’ office to discuss the situation.
Crooks said he could receive his degree if he apologized for the situation, Lopez said.
“I don’t apologize for anything,” Lopez told The Courier-Tribune after the meeting. “You should apologise. You’re the one doing it wrong.’
His mother, Margarita Lopez, exclaimed, “It’s not fair to me. That is something for racists.”
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After their encounter, police officers escorted Lopez and his family out of the building. Robbie Brown, ass. Asheboro Police Chief, said the officers were already there for the entire ceremony and did not send additional officers to the graduation ceremony. Officers escorted Lopez at the request of the grounds director, Brown said.
At 3 p.m. Friday, Lopez had not yet received his diploma. His mother said she received a call from the school and would arrange a meeting next week to discuss the situation. The school offered to meet Friday afternoon, but Margarita Lopez said she would rather wait so she could have others with her so she could have an adequate translator, as English is not her first language.
On Friday afternoon, a group of about 30 people gathered outside Asheboro High School in support of Lopez. Some in the group held placards that read “Free Ever’s diploma” or “honk if you’re not racist,” and others draped Mexican flags over their shoulders, as Lopez did during his graduation. Every few minutes, cars honked along the road in support of their cause.
Jessica Estrada, a student at Asheboro High School, also attended the demonstration to support Lopez.
“I can’t imagine how his mother is feeling now, given that he just wanted to show where he came from and show his pride. He has worked hard to get something that means so much to so many immigrant parents. The fact that she refused to give it to him is a mistake,’ Estrada said.
The incident sparked a social media storm with reactions on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Tiktok. Lopez supporters Friday afternoon started a petition called “Give this man his diploma” on Change.org with more than 40,000 signatures.
“Now I feel joy because everyone is supporting me,” Lopez said.
Asheboro City Schools said they will re-evaluate the dress code after Thursday’s graduation. An Asheboro City Schools representative could not be reached for comment Friday beyond the school district’s declassified statements.
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