East Surry was just one of three graduations I attended this year, but something that happened there has stuck with me over the past five days.
Before any diplomas were handed out, the students and audience rose and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
I really liked that touch. It seemed particularly fitting on this day that the school would send these seniors out into the world to remind them that we all owe a certain devotion or loyalty to this country.
Over the past five years, I have heard the national anthem played hundreds of times before sporting events, but I have never heard the Pledge recited at a ball game.
So with a certain pride, I let my camera hang by its strap and placed my hand over my heart.
I looked out over the seniors, and then I saw it.
A senior in the front row with a look of smug defiance as he refused to take part.
Let me go on the record as saying that I am a headstrong person who often got on the wrong side of his teachers and drill sergeants. I have never believed in going along with something just because the guy next to you does so.
I believe we should question authority. But never question my allegiance.
I didn’t join the National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam (like a certain president named W.). I joined the Guard because I liked the idea of standing up and protecting my own soil.
While the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are out taking the fight to the enemy, someone needs to stay behind and defend the country. I was willing to do that.
In fact, I think any able-bodied person living in this country should be willing to stand up to defend it.
As it turned out, I was not one of those able-bodied people myself. A bum foot kept me from completing training, but it didn’t kill my patriotism.
I was offended to see this high school senior standing there all smug during the Pledge.
If I were the principal of East Surry, that would have been enough for me to say, “This kid doesn’t get a diploma.”
In fact, I would take it to an extreme: a person who publicly refuses to show loyalty to this country should buy a one-way bus ticket to Canada or Mexico and never come back.
There are nearly half a million illegal immigrant entering the U.S. every year looking for a better life, a better country. Places like Mexico, China India, Cuba, the Philippines. And here is someone who doesn’t appreciate what he has.
It goes further than that, however. I’m sure there were plenty of East Surry kids who mumbled the words with no more emotion than you would feel discussing the weather at a dinner party.
But to show open defiance at a well-attended ceremony makes me worried about the character of such an individual.
Is this someone who will get drunk at a party and refuse to use a designated driver? Is this someone who would gladly partake in looting like we recently had in Baltimore?
Could he turn into an Eric Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh, willing to hurt others in protest against his own country?
Do I think this kid is going to turn out that bad? No, of course not, it’s just a pledge; but it does make me doubt.