Grocery store censors cake with request for ‘summa cum laude’

A Charleston, S.C., Publix store would not put “summa cum laude” on a high school student’s graduation cake, his mom said. Above: A Publix store in Zephyrhills, Fla.
Scott Iskowitz/Associated Press/File
A Charleston, S.C., Publix store would not put “summa cum laude” on a high school student’s graduation cake, his mom said. Above: A Publix store in Zephyrhills, Fla.

WASHINGTON — Saturday was Jacob Kosinski’s big day. His whole family, many from out of town, saw the Charleston, S.C., student graduate from his Christian-based homeschool program with a 4.89 grade point average and the coveted honor of summa cum laude.

His mother, Cara Koscinski, organized a graduation party for her 18-year-old son. For the occasion, she ordered a cake online from her nearest grocery store, Publix, which lets customers build their own cakes complete with a customized inscription, which they enter into a little message box.

Carefully, she typed in the message she wanted on the cake: ‘‘Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude class of 2018.’’


The Publix software was unhappy with the word cum. In Latin, cum is the preposition ‘‘with,’’ as in summa cum laude ‘‘with the highest distinction.’’ To the little box on the Publix website, however, the word meant something else and its sophisticated algorithm, alert for naughty words, returned a little message that said ‘‘profane/special characters not allowed.’’ It substituted three hyphens for ‘‘cum.’’

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The Washington Post replicated Cara Kosinski’s request and got the same result.

But there was still hope. The Publix form included a section for ‘‘special instructions’’ for the bakery, in which Cara Koscinski explained that Summa Cum Laude was a Latin term for high academic honor and was not profane. She included a link to a website explaining the meaning of Summa Cum Laude and said she didn’t think much about it afterward.

Cara Koscinski said she was so busy preparing things for the celebration, that she sent her husband and sister to the store to get some last minute items and to pick up the cake.

When they returned, everyone gathered around the cake. When they opened the box, there it was: ‘‘Congrats Jacob! Summa --- Laude Class of 2018.’’


Jacob was ‘‘absolutely humiliated,’’ Koscinski said. ‘‘It was unbelievable. I ordered the special graduation edition cake. I can’t believe I’m the first one to ever write ‘Summa Cum Laude’ on a cake.”

Cara Koscinski said she then had to explain why the grocery store censored ‘‘cum’’ from Jacob’s cake to her 70-year-old mother while Jacob’s friends laughed uncontrollably.

Jacob didn’t eat much of the cake after that, but his mother says the chocolate and vanilla cake was delicious.

Koscinski called Publix on Monday and explained the situation to the assistant manager. She said she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else in the future. Publix offered to remake the cake. She declined.

‘‘No,’’ she said, ‘‘you only graduate once.’’


Publix gave her a $70 refund for the cake and a store gift card.

Jacob can now laugh about the situation and is focused on getting ready to attend Wingate University in the fall, where he received a full academic scholarship.

‘‘Maybe I should have just gotten him his favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream instead,’’ said Cara Koscinski.