One Word

Many thanks to the alert reader who sent this in. Wow.

HOWELL, Mich. — When someone painted “God hates fags” on the school rock at Howell High, Shayna Kamilar did not hesitate. She called her friends, told her mother she was going out and left the house.

“We knew we had to paint over it,” said Kamilar, an 18-year-old senior. “It had to happen.”

Kamilar and her pals used 18 cans of spray paint to cover the rock and write the word LOVE dozens of times on school property. They got themselves accused of vandalism, suspended from class and barred from Saturday’s graduation.

The community reacted strongly, praising the original spirit of the rock-painting expedition while acknowledging that the extended artwork may have gone too far. More than 200 students protested the punishment, and parents scheduled a small backyard graduation ceremony for the group’s three seniors.

Now the ceremony has been moved to a football field. One teacher will speak. Another will hand out the diplomas. The valedictorian will repeat the address he is giving earlier in the day. The school photographer will record the event for free. Even the superintendent called to make sure the seniors have caps, gowns and yearbooks.

“I think we got over-punished, but I still got to stand up for what I believe in,” said Vinnie Mascola, a 17-year-old senior who says he is often called a derogatory name because he works on school plays. “What we did was small, but it got big and we got people thinking.”

Kudos to the parents and to the students themselves, and to every school official who recognized this for what it was: a profound learning experience for young adults.

Kids, particularly kids with causes, get beaten down a lot. You’ll get more conservative when you get older, is what I used to get told when I’d write letters to my hometown paper telling Bush Senior to get bent. Kids get told nothing they do matters, that the grownups are out working in the “real world” while they’re, I don’t know, living in fantasyland or something.

We get beaten down a lot too, we start to think there’s no value to speaking up and speaking out, to what we do here, elsewhere, in any of our many real worlds. We get told we don’t have a right to an opinion, because we’re coastal elites, or we’re liberals, or we work in universities, or we drink lattes, so we’re not real Americans.

But the world is real to everybody, everybody’s life is real to them. And these kids decided that in their time and in their world they’d do what they could to say this is wrong, it shouldn’t be like this. Even if they only did it in spray paint. If spray paint’s what you have, then spray paint’s what you use.

And if they kick you out of graduation, then you have your own. And word spreads, and people come, because in the real world it’s like that, you never know where your words stop. You never know the limits of the power that you have.

Congratulations on your graduation, Howell High School Seniors. Welcome to the real world.

A.