While Gov. John Bel Edwards, who defied electoral dynamics by having him and his leftist agenda elected in an ideologically center-right state, and Jones graduated at the top of their classes from the same school 32 years apart, something else crucial separated the two: Edwards, on his way to a service academy appointment, was clean-shaven at his graduation ceremony, while Jones, having won a scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana University, abjured the razor. Given that district rules specified to participate in the ceremony all males, except for those whom shaving facial hair led to documented medical complications, had to appear without a beard, Jones could not walk or give the valedictory address.
That did not come off well even within his own family; his mother asked him to conform even as other relatives supported his decision to go hirsute. However, she did get upset with the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for using him and his story as a means to call for the ouster of the Tangipahoa Parish School District superintendent and some school board members. Why the group felt the need to protest on the base facts appears baffling; its leader said the district’s actions somehow unfairly discriminated, implicitly on race (Jones is black), even though the personal appearance regulations seemed applied in a uniform manner across high school ceremonies.
She also echoed his aunt’s concern that such a policy violated the free expression portion of the First Amendment – assuredly mistakenly, as a long jurisprudential history exists confirming that secondary schools have a wide latitude in regulating appearance, including for staff as well as students. That indicates nothing unreasonable or unconstitutional about Tangipahoa’s code.
Jones alleges he wore a full beard throughout the year and had no warning of the policy, but in fact weeks before the date he and all students received notice of the rules and with his family also received a separate verbal reminder. He also said he refused to go smooth at the occasion itself – there, bearded students were offered implements to come into compliance and others took the opportunity to do so – because his arrangement, modified into a goatee, he saw as part of his identity.
Officials held fast, leaving his aunt to lament, “This is not for publicity or likes.… He chose to work hard to have a 4.0 and it paid off, so why take that away from him like that? That was his moment, and he’ll never get it back.” And perhaps this statement summarizes the attitude that led to the unhappy event.
Clearly, with the warnings he had Jones meant for a conflict to occur. He ignored these by all appearances because he must have thought he was special and would have an exception made for him. With all due respect for and contrary to his aunt’s assessment, that exactly entails a desire for publicity – although perhaps not in the way he had anticipated.
Nor was she correct in perceiving the episode as taking away his “moment:” he chose to pass on it when he decided not comply. That points out a fact of life many try to avoid realizing and which the political left often tries to legislate away or deny by fiat: you have to make choices that carry consequences in life, and “even if” does not apply.
If you as an able-bodied, non-elderly individual choose not to work, you should not expect to eat, even if you don’t like what’s on offer or it disrupts your preferred lifestyle. If you choose to have sexual intercourse, you should not expect to abdicate responsibility for or to kill the child that may result, even if that substantially changes your life. If you don’t embrace values of thrift, investing in the future, and hard work, you should not expect to earn a level of living and ultimately retirement beyond the most squalid, even if you can make others who do practice those values pay for indulging you in your choices.
And if you don’t follow the reasonable rules regarding graduation, you don’t participate in the event, even if you are a star student and it would cause conflict with your identity. Maybe that was the final thing Jones will learn in his prep career. He chose his “identity” over a chance to speak and participate, and there’s no free pass he receives that makes him exempt from the consequences of his actions. Welcome to life and the real world.
That other adults wish to use his self-made situation as part of a political agenda is reprehensible. Tangipahoa officials should tell them to go pound sand.