CORRECTION: An earlier version of the headline of this article referred to Dillon Donovan as an “Enlisted Marine.” In fact, Donovan is not a Marine, but a recruit, as he does not report to boot camp until July 9. While we support and honor recruit Donovan’s service, it was premature to refer to him as a Marine prior to his completing his initial training. We apologize for the error, which was corrected immediately after it was brought to our attention by a reader Thursday morning.
A recent graduate at one New York high school said he felt he had no other alternative when he walked away from his own graduation ceremony.
Dillon Donovan, an 18-year-old U.S. Marine Corps enlistee, told The Western Journal that he arrived at the venue on Saturday wearing a military sash. When he was told to take it off or wear it underneath his robe as he walked across stage, he said he grew indignant and opted instead to take his diploma and leave.
In an act of protest that has since attracted local media attention, Donovan said he was attempting to make a statement on behalf of a dozen other graduating seniors who had also signed up to join the military.
“I wanted to make change for the people going ahead of me that are going to be enlisting in any type of military branch,” he said.
Donovan said several teachers applauded his decision to wear the sash, but one in particular told him he could not wear it.
“She just approached me out of nowhere,” he said. “She didn’t give me any reason. She just said I had to take it off.”
At that point, he said he started to ask around and another teacher explained that the school had never offered any such recognition to enlisted service members in the past.
The Orchard Park School District cited the request for a last-minute change in policy as the reason Donovan was denied the opportunity to wear a military sash.
“With this request coming on the day of graduation immediately before the ceremony, it did not allow the district the chance to consider changing its historical practice and provide the same opportunity to all other graduates either entering the military, college or the world of work,” a statement said.
The district said it “supports all of our students, including our students entering the armed forces,” adding that the current controversy will result in a discussion of how to handle the issue in future ceremonies.
Donovan compared his school to others in the area, including one in which two enlisted seniors were able to wear sashes and received special recognition.
“The students were able to go up before everyone else and got a standing ovation from the audience,” he said.
While he couched his argument in a constitutional right to free expression, Donovan made it clear representing the military has been a lifelong goal that he wanted to share with his fellow graduates.
“I wasn’t trying to get any publicity or special treatment,” he said. “All the people that enlisted, all they are trying to do is protect the country, our constitutional amendments.”
His sisters also spoke to The Western Journal and expressed their disappointment in the school’s decision.
Older sister Devan said it was “unfortunate” that the school “doesn’t take the time to recognize their students who decided to join the service.”
She said her brother “missed out on one of the biggest days of his life” because of the policy.
“And I hope that something is done so future students don’t have this issue and get the recognition they deserve,” she said.
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