As we approach the culmination of the academic year, high school graduation ceremonies are a time for celebration and reflection. While everyone has the constitutional right to free speech, political protests by students and guests should not be allowed to impede a school's commencement program. It is inappropriate for these ceremonies to be used as a platform for political speech.

Given the increased potential for protests, particularly those associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is crucial for school administrators to take steps to ensure these events remain respectful and inclusive. AJC asks school administrators to review and implement the strategies below, take proactive steps to minimize the risk of disruption and respond appropriately if such disruptions occur. Doing so will ensure the focus remains on celebrating the achievements of graduates.

By implementing these strategies, high school administrators can better manage the complexities of holding graduation ceremonies amid political tensions and ensure that the focus remains on celebrating the achievements of their students.

  1. Pre-Ceremony Communication:
  • Clarify Expectations: Inform students, staff, and guests about the conduct and attire expected of them. Emphasize that the graduation ceremony is a non-political event focused on celebrating the accomplishments of all students. Be transparent about school policies and the consequences of violating the code of conduct to deter potential disruptions. Be clear about what types of clothing or political symbols will or will not be permitted.
  • Engage with Students: Hold discussions with student leaders, including those from diverse groups, to understand their concerns and expectations, primarily if tension in the school community has been raised. This dialogue can help preempt potential issues and foster a cooperative approach.
  • Develop a Response Plan: Prepare for different scenarios that might occur during the ceremony. This includes having a straightforward, calm method to handle disruptions, whether they are from inside or outside the ceremony area. Work with school security personnel to create a strategy. Ensure all speakers and participants are aware of the plan and their role. 
  1. Inclusivity and Respect:
  • Diverse Representation: Ensure that speeches and event protocols are neutral and universally welcoming, avoiding divisive content. 
  • Speeches: Provide guidance and recommendations for speakers. Be sure to review a copy of speeches from students and external participants before graduation.
  1. Ceremony:
  • Speaker Disruptors: Administrators should have a plan to interrupt speakers who go off-script or convey problematic or offensive messaging from the stage. This may include cutting the sound to a speaker's microphone or having a master of ceremonies have prepared remarks if offensive or inappropriately politicized speeches occur.
  • Crowd Disruptors: Ensure all speakers understand how to respond if the program is interrupted. Designate an administrator to address the crowd during prolonged interruptions. Ensure that security personnel are in place and know their role in handling disruptive students and/or audience members.
Back to Top