This last year has been a difficult one for teachers and students alike, and many breathed a sigh of relief when graduation rolled around. Families, friends, educators and students were ready to celebrate their hard work amid major changes the school year saw.
But one young man attending Hahnville High School in Boutte, Louisiana, was barred from entering the convention center where his school’s ceremony was being held on May 19, and he very nearly did not get to cross the stage.
It wasn’t for failing a class or poor behavior. He hadn’t done anything to merit being banned from the celebration. Daverius Peters, 18, simply wore the wrong kind of shoes.
He thought he’d followed the guidelines — white dress shirt, tie, dark slacks topped with the purple cap and gown — but his black leather shoes with white soles, though matching, were not permissible.
The dress code stipulated that “no athletic shoes” were allowed and students must wear dark dress shoes.
“I was in shock,” Peters told The Washington Post. “I felt humiliated. I just wanted to walk across the stage and get my diploma. … I thought I could wear them because they’re black.”
But the woman at the door was firm: “She said my shoes violated the dress code and I couldn’t attend the ceremony unless I changed them.”
With time running out, the poor student was stressing out, unsure what to do, until he saw a familiar face: John Butler, 38, a paraeducator at the school for the past two years and father of a daughter who was also graduating that day.
Peters explained his dilemma, and Butler quickly went over to have a word with the woman at the door, hoping his presence would resolve the issue.
“Of course, that sounded crazy to me,” Butler said. “There was nothing eccentric about his shoes.”
“Last minute before they close the doors to graduation,” Butler later posted on Facebook. “The young brother comes walking towards me in a panic. He’s like, Mr. John they won’t let me graduate because I don’t have the proper shoes for the dress code.”
“[H]e says the lady down there said I can’t walk to get my diploma because of the shoes I’m wearing. In total disbelief I go down to confirm. And sure enough she tells me the same thing.”
What he could do was outthink the system. He gave his own dress shoes to Peters, which was finally enough to appease the doorkeeper’s sense of rule.
“It was a no-brainer,” Butler said of the shoe swap. “This was the most important moment in his life up to that point, and I wasn’t going to let him miss it for anything. … I was just happy to see him receive his diploma.”
Of course, the substitution wasn’t perfect, and Peters had to slide, rather than walk, across the stage.
“Here’s the funny part tho… my shoes were 2 sizes bigger than his, so when his name was called, he had to slide his feet like Sleestak across the stage to receive his diploma,” Butler’s post continued. “[W]e had a good laugh.”
Peters’ mom, Jima Smith, noticed something was up quickly, whispering to family sitting with her, “Wait a minute, whose shoes does he have on?” No one knew.
While Butler’s offer was certainly timely and gracious, it’s not one that particularly surprised Peters.
“I wasn’t surprised because Mr. Butler is that type of person,” he said. “At school, if you’re having a bad day, he’ll be the one to take you out of class, walk around the school with you and talk to you.”
“I was just doing my part,” Butler said. “I didn’t think much of it.”
Of course, many people are thinking about the policy quite a bit now, questioning its helpfulness and working to get the rule changed. It would have been painful for Peters — or any student — to be forbidden from celebrating their years of hard work simply because their footwear isn’t up to code, especially if the student didn’t have the means to buy different shoes.
“He worked so hard, and for someone to just rip that away from him, that was maddening to me,” Smith said
“Something that small shouldn’t rob a kid from experiencing this major moment,” Butler agreed. “It’s something that needs to be thoroughly discussed.”
Butler plans to bring up the policy with school administrators, and the director of public information for the school has promised they “absolutely will follow up on that.”
It’s sad that Butler had to step in, but thankfully he was there and was willing to take care of the immediate situation as well as work toward a long-term solution.
“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.”
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