A 17-year-old high school student was denied her diploma after she made a celebratory dance during her graduation ceremony. Hafsah Abdur-Rahman, who recently graduated from The Philadelphia High School for Girls, spoke out about the incident that quickly made headlines.
“She (the principal) stole that moment from me,” she told 6ABC. “I will never get that again.”
She said this moment was especially important to her, as she saw it as an honor to her sister, who was killed at 14 years old. Instead, Abdur-Rahman says she cried in humiliation in a moment that should have been celebratory.
“I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t even enjoy the rest of the graduation,” she added.
Abdur-Rahman acknowledged that Principal Lisa Mesi warned students their families could not cheer or clap as they walked on stage.
“I understood the rules because I was saying ‘shh’ in the video. Do not say nothing because I want my diploma,” she said. “I knew and understood what we were supposed to do.”
The crowd laughed as she danced to the stage, which was cited as a motive not to give the student her diploma.
“If they thought that I shouldn’t do ‘The Griddy’ across the stage and do the Girls’ High traditions, nobody should have been able to wave or blow kisses or do period signs because I feel like that’s the same thing. I feel like that’s unfair,” Abdur-Rahman said.
She added that three other girls were denied their diplomas during the June 9 graduation ceremony. They were handed their diplomas once it had concluded.
Abdur-Rahman’s mother supported her daughter and said some changes may need to be made.
“It’s 2023; a lot has happened,” Jaszmine Reid said. “These girls went through COVID together. Our kids are not even living up to see high school. I understand traditions and rules are set in place for a reason, and we’re not saying they should be broken, but it might need to be revised also.”
The school’s alumnae association released a statement in full support of principal Lisa Mesi. They called out the situation for being subject to “click bait” and that it “does not reflect in any way the overall tone and tenor of the day.”
“At the onset — and previously shared with all students, families, and other attendees — Principal Mesi clearly communicated the guidelines and regulations for the ceremony with an added dose of warmth and humor,” the statement said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The association said it is open to examining and changing some of its traditions.
The School District of Philadelphia stood by Abdur-Rahman.
“The District does not condone the withholding of earned diplomas based on family members cheering for their graduates. We apologize to all the families and graduates who were impacted and are further looking into this matter to avoid it happening in the future.”
The school board president Reginald Streater also took her defense.
“We should not let nonmaterial antiquated norms preclude moments of inclusive joy that often follow moments of achievement/recognition,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer.