A North Carolina high school graduate was reportedly denied his diploma for wearing a Mexican flag in violation of the school’s dress code.
Ever Lopez, who is Mexican American, draped a Mexican flag over his gown at Asheboro High School’s graduation ceremony in May, prompting the principal to ask him to take the flag off, video of the ceremony shows.
The student tried but was unable to take the flag off — and then was denied his diploma after the ceremonial walk down the stage, according to ABC.
“When I got up there I went for the handshake and I wasn’t thinking nothing of it and I heard her say, ‘You can’t wear that,’” Lopez, who is first person in his immediate family to graduate from high school, told the outlet. And I was in shock and confused. I was like, ‘What?’ She was like, ‘The flag. You can’t wear that.’”
“It means everything to me,” he said, according to ABC.
“My parents, my whole family, is from over there. I did it for them because they had a rough childhood; they didn’t get the scholarship that I got, or they didn’t get to go to school like I did. So … representing my flag and getting a diploma was really important to me, because I was basically doing it for my family.”
Lopez has not yet received his diploma, ABC reported. He said the school has asked him to apologize in order to receive it.
“I don’t know why I should apologize, when it should be heard, because I did nothing wrong,” Lopez told the outlet.
The incident sparked protest outside a school, and 73,000 people signed a petition in support of Lopez.
“Well, it’s crazy. I didn’t expect it, all the community to come together like that,” Lopez said, according to ABC.
“I was just walked out of school. I was kind of like down. I was like, ‘Dang man I didn’t get my diploma and stuff.’ … It is crazy because the next day I woke up and I had people calling me, saying, ‘Oh man, you got interviews, you got interviews, you got interviews.’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ And then what shocked me the most, other than the interviews, was the protest at my school because I didn’t know about that.”
Meanwhile, the school district said that it supports students’ “expressions of their heritage in the appropriate time and place” — but insisted donning the Mexican flag “violated the ceremony’s dress code.”
“We continue working to resolve this issue with the student and his family so that he will receive his diploma from Asheboro High School,” in a statement. “He has worked very hard and we commend him on this great achievement. We are confident in his abilities and we know he has a bright future ahead of him.”
“This incident is not about the Mexican flag,” the school district added in another statement. “Students were encouraged to express their identity by decorating their mortar boards. A number of students followed the protocol and had the Mexican flag and other representations appropriately displayed during the ceremony.”