La Plata High School in Maryland held a special ceremony Thursday June 10 to finally give seven students who graduated in 1969 their diplomas.
“Got it!” shouted one of the graduates, as he clutched his original high school diploma for the first time after 52 years of graduation.
“Class of 1969, you are champions of Civil Rights,” said current Charles County School Board Chairperson, Latina Wilson at the ceremony.
In 1969, some students of La Plata High School were punished for participating in a sit-in, walkout protest for racial justice. They protested because the school would not allow Black students to be part of school programs such as majorettes, according to the report. As a result, their diplomas were withheld.
“The graduation came on the heels of student unrest, a sit-in and protests spearheaded by black students after no students of color were selected for the majorette or Warriorette squads,” Wilson said.
The students who participated were able to walk for graduation in 1969, according to Wilson, but the actual diplomas were mailed to them after school ended for the year. Seven diplomas never made it and were returned to the Board of Education.
Fifty-two years later, during the pandemic, Wilson said the school staff found the diplomas still in their envelopes and decided to return them to their owners.
“Your actions improved the culture at La Plata High School and set an example for students who would follow,” he said. “You followed your conscience, and you risked the consequences. It could have not been easy to stand your ground.”
Dale Contee, a former student said the memory is still vivid.
“We do not wish to bring up old wounds,” Contee said before she received her diploma. “Naturally we felt hurt and disappointed that we could not receive our diplomas with our classmates, but we want to make it known we were peaceful back then and we are peaceful today.”
Contee said none of the students have any animosity towards the current board of education.
“All that we suffered and endured did not make us bitter, it made us better,” she said.
Jimmy Mayola said their cause was just.
“Forty percent of the student body was Black and only one Black person was on the majorettes and it wasn’t fair representation, and we wanted it changed,” he said.
Kenneth Shirriel said it was important to be a part of a student sit-in, even though he knew the consequences.
“I marched with them,” he said. “I sat with them and I didn’t get that opportunity to go across the stage and get that diploma that hurt. That really hurt.”
The students’ actions and persistence led the school to agree that the selection was unjust. The board of education, at the time, even released a statement saying that the process was undemocratic, according to CNN.
Fifty-two years later, the seven graduates have finally received their long-awaited diploma.
“Class of 1969 you are an example of courage,” School Board Latina Wilson told the smiling graduates as they clutched their original high school diplomas first time.
Congratulations to the La Plata High School class of 1969!!