CLARKSVILLE — Seven seniors were prohibited from walking the stage at Friday’s graduation after they participated in a water fight inside Clarksville High School on their last day of school.
But as classmates attended the ceremony, a large crowd of family and friends gathered outside the school to cheer them on as the seven seniors donned their caps and gowns.
When the seven seniors finally received their diplomas after the formal ceremony, they ran to the school’s practice field to celebrate — with a water gun fight.
The school didn’t allow the seniors to participate in the graduation ceremony as a disciplinary measure after they engaged in an incident Wednesday involving water balloons and water guns inside the school during senior day.
The school’s move to prohibit the seniors from walking the stage spurred criticism from parents, students and many others in the community.
The school’s principal did allow the seniors to gather outside the school during the ceremony, and they were able to collect their diplomas after the graduation ceremony.
Sam Stewart, one of the graduates who was not allowed to walk at the ceremony, said he feels he was “robbed of a moment” for both himself and his parents.
“I’ve had one detention, a few tardies, that’s it,” he said. “So you take that into account, you are pretty much putting me in one moment and saying I cannot walk because of one moment.”
However, it was an “incredible feeling” to see an outpouring of support from the community, he said.
The school district released a statement Friday, saying the water fight “jeopardized the safety of our students and staff and created a substantial disruption to the educational environment” and that the “safety and well-being of all our students remains our top priority.”
Clarksville Community Schools’ statement noted that school officials would not discuss individual students involved in the incident, but that “in order to dispel rumors and correct inaccurate information circulating, we can provide some relevant facts about the incident that took place. These are:
● At no time did Clarksville High School administrators or staff give permission for students to partake in water activities inside the high school.
● Neither high school administrators nor staff provided water-related supplies to students.
● The water activities were scheduled for a senior picnic to be held outside at a later time than the incident occurred.
● The seven individuals involved are still graduating but will not participate in the commencement ceremony Friday evening.
One student slipped and fell during the incident, the district confirmed. Keyshawn Minor, one of the seven graduates who didn’t walk, said he was the student who fell, but he was not injured.
“It’s just been a little stressful, because I really wanted to walk across the stage,” he said. “I didn’t get hurt or nothing.”
Minor said it has been difficult for the past year navigating virtual learning.
“The only thing that really kept me going was knowing I was going to walk across the stage,’ he said.
Stewart said the water fight, which he described as a “senior prank,” started in the cafeteria, and when he and other seniors involved ran into a high traffic area, they were “told to stop and they stopped.”
“There was no more spraying after that — we stopped running, we stopped all that and we complied with the rules,” he said.
Kylie Perez, the class valedictorian and Stewart’s girlfriend, organized plans for her classmates to gather after the ceremony to cheer them on.
Perez spread the word through social media for the seniors, families and community members to gather outside after graduation.
“It’s just not going to be the same without all of them there, and I feel like it’s a big misunderstanding blown out of proportion,” Perez said Friday before the graduation.
She said she was disappointed that Stewart was not allowed to walk across the stage with everyone else.
“Since freshman year I’ve seen his hard work throughout the school years,” she said. “He’s just been waiting for this moment. I was so excited to see him accomplish this. It’s something he’s been waiting for. He’s always been my No. 1 supporter — he was excited to cheer me on, and I won’t get to see him [at the ceremony].”
Andre Jones, parent of one of the graduates who didn’t walk, said he was excited that friends and family were celebrating with the seven graduates, even though they didn’t participate in the actual ceremony.
“We’re all going to recognize them, and I think there’s going to be a big outpouring of support from the community,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I think we’re taking this punishment and we’re turning it into an opportunity.”
Stewart’s mother, Staci Stewart, said she feels the school district showed a “lack of compassion.”
She was also disappointed for the families of seniors who are walking, she said.
“I’m sad now for the seven who can’t walk — I’m sad for this entire class that is telling me that the atmosphere feels different, it feels sad, it doesn’t feel as jubilant as they expected their senior graduation to be,” she said.
Clarksville Community Schools said the decision was “not taken lightly and we will always strive to provide the safest and most secure educational environment for all of our students at all times.”