It’s funny how what is selfish in the eyes of many is interpreted as admirable by others.
One of the latest entries into the legion of the “Internet famous” is a Pennsylvania high school graduate who walked out of commencement mid-ceremony, immediately after receiving her diploma. As reported by Buzzfeed’s Leticia Miranda, student Tayler Michelle Gray is an aspiring health care worker who “during her junior year … entered Parkland High School’s online program to finish her degree while she studied at Lehigh Career and Technical Institute to become a nursing assistant.” Gray contends she had no real connection with the other students in her class because she spent so much time at work.
Miranda wrote that Gray claimed she “didn’t intend to be disrespectful by leaving the ceremony early. She just wanted to spend the rest of the day celebrating with her family.” That argument might hold water if Gray had not tweeted out a video of herself departing the ceremony; the post included the line “Received my diploma and walked right out #2016.”
Scores of people are praising Gray for her actions, and I can only guess that they suffer from the same brand of narcissism that Gray has. Simply put, her actions were disrespectful and selfish. She may claim that she intended no disruption, but that is exactly what she did – drawing attention to herself at the expense of the students who were receiving their diplomas as she walked out the back.
Gray had a choice to make: Either participate in commencement fully or, if time with family was indeed that important opt out of commencement and pick up her diploma the next day. Some might say she chose to have her cake and eat it, too; actually, she had her cake and then rubbed it in the faces of her fellow graduates.
That’s a far cry from Oklahoma high school senior Micah McDade’s actions at the Okmulgee High School commencement.
According to the Okmulgee News Network, McDade was born with cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair throughout his life. But on May 20, he surprised his classmates by rising from his wheelchair to walk across the stage to accept his diploma.
McDade worked for months to prepare for his special day, and his fellow seniors gave him a standing ovation to recognize his achievement. His accomplishment certainly will be one of the lasting memories from commencement for many of his classmates, their parents and everyone else in attendance.
On a day when an entire class is honored for their efforts and accomplishments, two students landed in the spotlight but the differences are telling. One chose to separate herself from the group because her personal agenda was more important than respecting her fellow students and their parents. Gray’s excuse about family time is feeble; walking out likely bought her an hour, at best. If she didn’t want to be there, she shouldn’t have attended.
The other used the occasion as inspiration to achieve a personal goal, and in the process he provided inspiration for his classmates. McDade proved that hard work and dedication have their rewards; while his triumph was personal, it also resonated with everyone in attendance.
Being an individual and going your own way are fine, except when your actions come at the expense of others. Avoiding selfish behaviors starts with both recognizing that your actions will have an impact on others and caring about those who will be affected.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.