During commencement in Alexandria Township, New Jersey on Friday morning, Delaware Valley Regional High School officials barred graduating seniors entering the military from donning stoles emblazoned with their service branches.
“They were told if they wore [the sashes,] they would not walk. . . Sam was upset because she is deciding to fight for their freedoms yet she cannot be proud to wear her sash,” Missy Pfisterer told The Federalist on Friday afternoon about her fiance’s daughter.
When the school distributed gowns and sashes on Thursday morning, the graduates were surprised to be told of a new ban on non-school-issued regalia. For the past two years, per parents’ reports, the sashes have been allowed.
Pfisterer and fiancé Eric Hansen attended DVRHS’s commencement ceremonies on Friday to cheer on Eric’s daughter, 18-year old Samantha “Sam” Hansen.
“I was very angered at the disappointment on her face when her Navy sash was taken away from her before the ceremony,” said Eric Hansen, who now has two daughters in the U.S. Navy.
Military sashes or stoles are worn atop graduation robes and are issued by the recruiters of the graduates’ service branch.
“They would not allow the military sashes because they were not school issued,” Hansen said, saying he found the school’s decision “disgusting.”
“Even though we are a Republican family, no matter if Democratic or Republican, the school showed the liberal ways in hiding the pride of our country due to the sensitivities of people these days. They restrained the students in showing what they believe in and we feel it was wrong. Being proud of your country is a freedom that should never be taken away, especially on Flag Day!” Hansen added.
June 14 also marked the 244th birthday of the U.S. Army and the 73rd birthday of the present commander in chief, President Donald Trump.
Friday morning, a school official confiscated the sash Sam hoped to wear during the ceremony later in the day, Pfisterer and Hansen explained. Although the sash was later returned, the graduate was not allowed to wear it for official photographs of the milestone event. Sam was not alone. DVRHS parents and grandparents of graduates entering military service sounded the alarm on social media on Thursday.
Although the bulk of responses to social media posts on the subject encouraged the students to wear the sashes despite the ban, at least one suggested that graduates who knowingly thwarted the rules might be ill-fitted for military service.
“Now is the time to teach your kid to stand up for what they believe in. Have them wear it anyway. . . There’s nothing more honorable then serving in our military,” said Facebook user George Stiuso.
“Disrespectful, unpatriotic, wrong message. Bad decision making here,” added Jackie Rollins.
“SHAME ON DEL VAL. Thank you to your grandson and the seven others for their service. God bless them,” said Peggy Smith Fallon.
Stiuso, Rollins, and Fallon were responding to a post by Jean Crandall, grandmother to DVRHS graduate Alex StClair. Like Sam, Alex will also be serving our country in the U.S. Navy. Alex ships out August 6.
“We are a military family, it means A LOT to us, and that is why I was/am upset,” said Alex’s mother, Tracy StClair, on Facebook Friday afternoon.
The call to service, particularly the Navy, runs strong in the StClair family. Alex’s father, John, served in the U.S. Navy for seven years. Alex’s younger brother Sean, who will be a sophomore next year, also plans on joining the Navy.
“My son has wanted to join the US Navy since he was in second grade and has been counting down for the past 4 years to the day that he is able to proudly wear the US Navy sash. . . I realize to many it is just a ‘piece of cloth’ but to us, it is more,” she added. “It is proudly wearing upon your chest the branch of service you have sworn to defend our country with. It is the recognition that you have taken an oath to defend our country and the freedoms of those who live here.”
Graduates entering military service were told of the ban on Thursday as they were picking up their graduation robes, according to the StClairs. It is unclear from whom the new rule originated, however, and the StClairs say Superintendent Daria Wasserbach, a family friend, was unaware of it.
St. Clair said she was thankful to the Wasserbach for individually recognizing Alex, Sam, and six additional peers during the ceremony. Students from at least the past two years have worn the sashes, StClair told The Federalist, noting how she had teared up seeing those sashes at past ceremonies when taking photographs for friends’ children.
“The U.S. Army is very proud of its Future Soldiers and the decision they have made to serve the people of our nation. We are honored to have our Future Soldiers recognized publicly for their career choices at high school graduations, just as other students are often honored for the universities or technical schools they have chosen as their future paths,” Kelli Bland, director of public affairs for U.S. Army Recruiting Command told The Federalist on Saturday. “However, we understand it is not always possible based on each school’s rules for graduation attire. The U.S. Army is built on trust and respect, and we expect our graduating Future Soldiers to respect their school’s guidelines.”
“As Principal, I am dedicated to providing students, parents, relatives, and guests a dignified and respectful graduation ceremony. The Administration and staff have been working with the senior class to design a ceremony that will honor the graduates, while still allowing the event to be a celebration,” reads a May 1 graduation letter to parents signed by Principal Adrienne E. Olcott.
According to DVRHS’ “Additional Graduation Notes,” “NO insignias, buttons, etc., will be permitted on the caps and gowns. . . Students that have honor stoles must return them before receiving their diploma.” School-issued sashes or cords, such as those denoting an excellent grade point average, were permitted.
DVRHS did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Sam celebrated her special day with a “project graduation” trip. Alex and his friends went down the shore for the weekend.
While their school may deny these brave young men and women the honor of proudly displaying their military sashes, I have no such reservations. Congratulations, DVRHS graduates, on your many accomplishments. Our country is proud of you, and we thank you for your dedication to serving.