In a video that has since gone viral across social media, a North Carolina student was denied his high school diploma and removed by police from a graduation ceremony for donning a Mexican flag draped over his gown.
During the Asheboro High School graduation ceremony on Thursday night, Adolfo Hurtado was filming as his cousin Ever Lopez had his name called out over the microphone, and he walked up to the podium.
But after reaching the front of the stage, where the principal was handing out the diplomas, Lopez was stopped — a line of students was held up behind him as a conversation ensued. The crowd can be heard booing during the pause in the ceremony.
After a few moments, Lopez then walked off the stage — without his diploma. The crowd cheered for Lopez as he went to take his seat among fellow graduating seniors.
“I myself was very upset, and I had to contain my emotions because we’re in a public area,” Hurtado told the Courier-Tribune, Asheboro’s local paper. “We had a lot of people with eyes on us.”
Lopez is the first in his immediate family to graduate, the Courier-Tribune reported. He told the newspaper that despite being seated near teachers, no one mentioned the flag was an issue to him until he reached the stage.
“I just gotta represent,” Lopez told the Courier-Tribune. “I did it for my family. They came over here to give me a better future.”
In an initial statement released the following morning, Asheboro City Schools said Lopez was denied his diploma because “the wearing of a flag of any kind is a violation of the dress code.”
The school said that the “only acceptable deviation from the standard cap and gown regalia” was the decoration of the mortar, but added that administrative officials will now be “reevaluating that decision for future senior classes in light of the situation that occurred last night.”
In a message delivered to students and their families prior to graduation, which was posted online by a reporter in North Carolina, there is no mention of flags being prohibited nor that students are not allowed to wear other apparel over their gowns.
Lots of questions circulating about the dress code. Same. I asked for more explanation from the district Friday but they didn’t elaborate.— WXII Lee Anne Denyer (@WXIILeeAnne) June 6, 2021
A parent,however, shared these messages that came in electronically ahead of the ceremony. pic.twitter.com/hZIcRQmHU7
Later that afternoon, amid a firestorm of comments from those in attendance and people online who had watched the video accusing school officials of racism, Asheboro City Schools released yet another statement.
Officials said the incident at the graduation ceremony “has been misrepresented across a number of social media platforms.”
“The heart of the issue is the fact that the student did not follow the established dress code for the event and detracted from the importance and the solemnity of the ceremony,” the statement said. “Our dress code is in place to ensure the dignity of the event is upheld and is fair to all students. Graduation is a milestone event and it is grossly unfair for one individual to diminish this event by violating the dress code.”
The school denied that Lopez was refused his diploma solely because of the Mexican flag, adding that other students “followed the protocol and had the Mexican flag and other representations appropriately displayed.”
The Courier-Tribune reported that accounts and photos from the ceremony verified that other seniors had stoles showing the Mexican flag during the event.
Following the ceremony, Lopez and his family were called into the office of Principal Penny Crooks — the faculty member who was handing out the diplomas to students — to discuss what occurred, the Courier-Tribune reported.
Lopez told the newspaper that Crooks informed him if he apologized for what happened, he would receive his diploma. He added that he had no intention of doing so and that it’s the school “who should be apologizing.”
In another TikTok video uploaded by Hurtado, Lopez and his family are visibly emotional in a school hallway, pleading with Crooks to give the student his diploma. Officers then escort them out of the building.
Robbie Brown, assistant police chief for the Asheboro Police Department, told the Courier-Tribune that officers were already on-hand for the ceremony and that they escorted Lopez and those in his company off the property “at the request of the principal.”
By mid-afternoon on Friday, Lopez had still not received his diploma, the Courier-Tribune reported. His mother, Margarita Lopez, said the school offered to meet that day, but that she was waiting until she would be able to have others with her to help translate as English is not her first language.
Some people have signs in support of Lopez and others are wearing Mexican flags. His mother, Margarita Lopez, said she wants her son to receive his diploma, and she wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to other students in the future. @Courier_Tribune pic.twitter.com/wTTIhcmX8g— Rachel Berry (@racheldberry) June 4, 2021
That same afternoon, a crowd gathered outside Asheboro High School to support Lopez — asking that officials give him his diploma and also holding up signs with messages like “honk if you’re not racist.”
Mayor of San Antonio Julián Castro also offered his support on Saturday afternoon, writing in a tweet that Lopez being denied his diploma “is a bad overreaction to a display of pride” and that he “earned his diploma.”
“Now I feel joy because I have everybody supporting me,” Lopez told the Courier-Tribune.