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HOWELL – Draped in green satin robes and mortarboard hats, a group of 35 Howell High School seniors walked proudly down the track at the athletic field in a local park June 11. The sound of the traditional graduation march, “Pomp and Circumstance,” played from a sound system as they filed in, all smiles. The grand stand, packed to capacity erupted with cheers and applause.
It was, by all appearances, a typical graduation ceremony seen throughout the country. Until one noticed the white signs with the word “Love” emblazoned on them being carried by a number of the students in robes.
This was the scene of the Select Student Commencement Ceremony of Howell High School’s 137th Commencement. It was also the second graduation ceremony Saturday for Howell seniors, the result of three seniors taking a stand for what they believe in.
Early last month, the students arrived at the southeast Michigan school to find the message “God Hates Gays” emblazoned on the property. The students, offended by the graffiti’s hate message, painted over the message with their own: Love.
Media reports vary on how many times the students painted the word, but seniors Shayna Kamilar, Vincent Mascola, and Derrick Weber and a sophomore friend admitted to painting the word multiple times around the campus. They were suspended for the remainder of the school year, and the three seniors were barred from their own graduation ceremony.
The community and the students’ parents rallied together and threw their own graduation. And what started as a simple backyard commencement ceremony turned into a major event, with over 500 people in attendance.
However, school officials were markedly absent from this ceremony. Instead, two teachers and the three students’ friends created the ceremony. Class president and Valedictorian Neil Kandeler even stopped in to deliver his commencement speech again. When he hit the line “even if society disdains your actions,” the crowd erupted in applause.
Howell High drama teacher Amanda Pringle presented each student with their diplomas. Pringle had all three as students in her classes through the year, and at the beginning of the school year she had asked each to write a motto by which they would live their lives.
“I realize how lucky I was to have these students,” Pringle said. “These three students lived their mottos.”
Kamilar’s motto was a Gandhi quote: “Be the Change you wish to see in the world.” Weber’s was, “Perseverance through everything.” And Mascola’s was his own creation: “A smile a day keeps the meanies away.”
Teacher Mark Oglesby told the students, “You are a credit to yourselves, your class, your school and this community.”
Pringle closed by saying, “Don’t ever forget: to the world you are one person. But to one person you might be the world.”