Highland High School parents were told their children cannot wear military stoles with their academic regalia during Thursday's graduation, having many believe the administration does not "see the importance" of these students' service.
Senior Jasmin Oropeza has been a member of the Navy's Delayed Entry Program for the past six months, having trainings twice a week. When she received her stole, she was excited because it represented all the hard work she has put in.
"I get home late and I work hard to work on my grades," she said.
She took a picture of her stole and posted it on social media, and a classmate reached out asking if Oropeza was allowed to wear it during graduation. According to Oropeza, the young man, a member of the Marines, said his mother asked to speak to the principal, Debra Vigstrom, to see if her son could wear his military stole to graduation. She was told no.
The two "got into it," and the mother "was escorted out," Oropeza said.
Oropeza's recruiter later went in to speak to a counselor about a student who wanted to join the Navy, and when he asked them about students not being allowed to wear stoles, the counselor said it was Vigstrom's decision.
Highland High School did not immediately respond to The Californian's request for comment.
Kern High School District Public Information Officer Erin Briscoe said beyond the traditional cap and gown, graduation attire is a decision made by the individual school site's administration.
Oropeza said she was "hurt" when she found out she could not wear her stole.
"The other students in the Navy with me and from the Marines they’re surprised and kind of hurt," she said. "We all got our sashes and want to wear them.
"It’s just a sash, I don’t understand what the big deal is," she added. Oropeza pointed out that a friend from East Bakersfield High was allowed to wear a similar stole at EHS graduation. Students from South, West, Stockdale and Mira Monte high schools were seen wearing military stoles during their ceremonies as well.
Oropeza's mother, Janeth Jimenez, said the stoles represent a great sacrifice the students are making for their country and they should be able to wear them.
"She gets home late from the trainings she does and she’s tired and she still tries to do homework," Jimenez said. "For her to not be able to represent that really hurt. They’re going to be representing their country and (the school doesn't) see the importance of that."
Jimenez said she has talked about the issue with her coworkers and friends but has not reached out to the school.
Though she might not be able to wear her stole at graduation, Oropeza and Jimenez both hope the administration will change its mind in the future.
"We all have worked hard physically and mentally, all military branches, and I believe we have earned it just as much as an honor student has," Oropeza said.
"Even if she doesn’t get to wear it (tonight), I know where she's headed and I’m proud of her regardless," Jimenez said.
After she graduates, Oropeza said she leaves for boot camp June 25.