Commentary: High school graduations should be a time to celebrate accomplishments and be joyful

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

Commentary: High school graduations should be a time to celebrate accomplishments  and be joyful
May 09
04:00 2019

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

High school graduations are right around the corner. Everyone is excited as the anticipation is growing each day. Caps and gowns have been ordered, so let the pomp and circumstances begin.

Family members from far and wide have made their transportation plans. Pies and cakes are waiting to be baked. Photos will be taken capturing these special moments. Some families will even rent limousines for the occasion. Oh my!

While I graduated from high school many years ago, I have vivid memories of the ceremony. My mom and my aunts graduated from Atkins High School, so me graduating from the same high school was significant. Graduating from high school was expected from those of us who lived in East Winston. We could not disappoint our parents and relatives.

Upon finishing high school, our plans were different. Some took the employment route, while some took the military or the college route. The important thing was that we each had a destination. Success was waiting on us, so we had to go and get it. The consistent theme throughout these choices was that we had to work hard in school and make good decisions.

The top honors in high school are valedictorian and salutatorian. Gaining either of those honors means you must receive a lot of As and Bs. Getting lower grades won’t cut it.

Around this time last year, Olecia James thought she was going to be Number Two in her class. Olecia James graduated from Cleveland Central High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. She is African American and that seemed to be important to school officials in this Mississippi town. Accordingly, weighted grades became unweighted grades. In other words, she received more credit for some courses than other courses. As a result, she lost out to attend the University of Mississippi on scholarship.

It is my opinion, when school districts want things changed, they speak a foreign language called “education speak.” This jargon is used to confuse and dupe parents and grandparents.

But hold on, Olecia James has sued that Mississippi school district for discrimination. It appears that white students have been leaving this school district in recent years. Records indicate the school district had 270 fewer white students between 2015 and 2016. It is called white flight.

White flight occurs for several reasons. Chief among them is, unfortunately, some white folks aren’t comfortable living around black people. Race, while some may disagree, has, is and will be a problem in the United States of America. Many in the white flight category have children who share their parents’ views. In too many cases, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Don’t forget Charlottesville, Virginia, or the racial tensions on some of these college campuses.

Olecia James’ attorney, Lisa Ross said, “These positions that are set aside for students who work hard and do well, they should be awarded on who does the best.” Ross added, “And it should be done without consideration as to whether whites will leave the school district if their kids are not selected for awards.” In my opinion, matters of racial discrimination don’t lend themselves to rational and clear thinking as your vision is always blurred by inequality and inequity. It seems that is the case in this school district.

The Cleveland School District has a sordid history when it comes to racial discrimination. Jasmine Shepherd was the 2016 co-valedictorian. Jasmine Shepherd is African American, and she had to share this honor with a white student as academic irregularities were alleged.

It is discouraging to see racism play out in today’s schools. Cleveland, Mississippi, and the questionable practices of its schools are in the news for the wrong reasons.

The case involving Olecia James and the Cleveland, Mississippi School District will go to court in June. Right will overtake wrong! That’s what I believe.

Upcoming high school graduates, enjoy your special day! Let hope resonate with you as your futures are bright.

James B. Ewers Jr. Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years.  He is a retired college administrator.  He can be reached at

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