It’s not easy to make a tough decision.
Just ask Mike Riordan, the principal/superintendent of Oak Lawn Community High School.
Last week Riordan decided to enforce a school policy regarding community service and prevented 48 students from participating in graduation ceremonies.
Forty seven of those students did not perform required service hours and submitted bogus paperwork that included the forged signature of an Oak Lawn Park District employee. Many of the students allegedly purchased the paperwork with the forged signature from a classmate, who also was banned from the ceremony even though that student reportedly completed the required service hours.
Students are required to complete 24 hours of community service hours before graduation. They have four years to dedicate the equivalent of one day to the community, and there are countless opportunities to fulfill the obligation. The village, park district, churches and myriad community organizations regularly seek volunteers to help staff events.
Finding out about these volunteer opportunities is as simple as picking up the phone. Yet, more than 40 students at Oak Lawn Community High School—10 percent of the graduating class—never completed the hours and thought they’d put one over on the school by submitting bogus paperwork.
They almost got away with it, but the scheme unraveled when a few sheets submitted at the last moment bore signatures that did match with the others.
School officials did not hesitate. They spoke individually with the offending students, who were told they’d receive a diploma as soon as they completed the service hours. They would not, however, walk across the stage at St. Xavier University—site of the commencement.
Riordan and his colleagues could have gone in a different direction. Withholding diplomas until the service hours were completed, but allowing them to walk was one option. Some parents and even Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman said the consequence was too severe.
It’s not. But it comes as a shock because we’ve become accustomed to bending the rules to accommodate young people. “They’re just kids, after all,” is the customary refrain. “They make mistakes and should get a second chance.”
Riordan and other high school leaders didn’t see it that way. Instead, they taught an invaluable lesson: integrity and honesty are important and trying to get over on the school requirements has consequences. Besides, allowing those students to participate in commencement ceremonies would have cheapened the experience for the rest of the class.
We commend Riordan and his staff for making and standing by their
No less is expected of community leaders.