Disruptive Behavior at Graduation Ceremonies has Been a Significant Problem for Schools and Universities for Many Years

School and university officials have struggled for decades to find viable solutions to parents and family members who disrupt graduation ceremonies by yelling, screaming, blowing air horns and otherwise making noise that causes the names of many graduates to be drowned out.  These unruly actions diminish the hard-earned recognition for other graduates and often add to the length of graduation ceremonies further inconveniencing others. 

Many have been quick to criticize school and public safety officials who have tried to bring respect and dignity back to our graduation ceremonies through assertive measures.  I can understand the frustration of our community leaders who have been bold enough to take a stand on behalf of the majority of those who know how to attend a graduation ceremony without ruining it for others.  While I have seen some reports of tactics that I do find to be troubling, I am not so sure that some arrests for boisterous spectators is automatically incorrect.  As with any such situations, we need access to accurate information to properly evaluate these situations.

Having worked more than a dozen K-12 and university graduation ceremonies over the years, I can attest that there are many people who will show up drunk, use drugs, curse and otherwise violate the law.  There are even more people who will scream and yell like fools drowning out the names of one or more other graduates no matter how politely and repeatedly they are asked to conduct themselves with civility.  The specific behaviors vary widely and some of these folks may simply be overly rude and insensitive without breaking the law while others may clearly be in violation of state and local code sections.  I think we need to consider just how difficult these people are to work with while we scrutinize the actions of school and public safety officials.

Unfortunately, some students can be disruptive and disrespectful as well.  I can recall my fellow students and I being embarrassed when a group of graduates from the law school got drunk during our undergraduate commencement ceremony and dropped wine bottles on the floor while we were receiving our degrees.  Their drunken cursing and yelling during our graduation was particularly rude since this was a Baptist university.  The university quickly modified procedures to try to head off this ridiculous behavior. 

 When I became a school district police chief, I was relieved to see that this type of conduct was not tolerated at our graduation ceremonies.  In fact, any student who showed up intoxicated was arrested for possession of alcohol underage and not allowed to walk.  Our public school graduations were generally very respectful and orderly with the exception of attendees who yelled and screamed when the names of their family members were announced. We discussed the idea of issuing citations for violators but felt that we would draw the kind of wrath that is being directed at school officials who have tried that approach this year.  We did speak with individuals when they disrupted the event but this is of limited impact once people realize that there would be no real consequences for those self-centered individuals who fail to respect the needs of others.  I must say, we sadly never did find a satisfactory solution to the problem of guests who lacked what we call “home training” in the South.

While many are focusing on how extreme the efforts of some school and public safety officials appear to be, one must witness this type of disrespectful and unruly behavior to appreciate just how terribly rude and disruptive these violators can be.  We should not be too fast to pass judgment based on what are sometimes incomplete media accounts of these types of situations. It is important to remember that our court system offers ample opportunity for citizens to fight wanton abuse of legal authority within our legal system.

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.