Hold your applause or else!

0608_fjen08_1024
College graduates gathered on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the annual cap toss on Friday afternoon, May 8. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)

"PLEASE HOLD your applause until the end."

It's a familiar request during graduation season - and one that's usually ignored as certain audience members clap and yell anyway.

Well, some folks who did that in Mississippi probably wish they hadn't. Instead of controlling their excitement as they had been asked, relatives of one 2015 grad hollered out. Now, they face legal problems that could saddle them with $500 fines and six-month jail terms.

That's right. They could go to jail just for expressing themselves during high-school commencement proceedings that took place last month at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Senatobia, Miss., school superintendent Jay Foster said he was just trying to keep proceedings dignified and ensure that each student heard his name announced.

"I think graduation should be a solemn occasion," he said. "It should have some dignity and decorum, and at the end we'll celebrate together."

Yeah, but you don't throw people's overly-excited relatives in jail just for yelling out. I'm just saying . . .

Poll

Should schools impose restrictions on parents at graduations?

Meanwhile, closer to home, in Washington Township in Sewell, N.J., school officials have published a graduation-day dress code - not so much for the grads but for members of the audience to keep them from showing up in cargo shorts and T-shirts. According to the district's website, "Guests are expected to dress appropriately. Shirts must have collars - no T-shirts, tank tops, jeans or Bermuda shorts are permitted. Short pants are not allowed for persons over 12 years old."

Well, duh.

You'd think that in 2015 no one would have to tell anyone how to behave or dress at a high-school graduation. But our regard for pomp and circumstance isn't what it used to be. Dignity at some commencement ceremonies has become passe, almost to the point where it's graduations gone wild. People turn up with huge cheering sections that think nothing of shouting out their graduate's name. They tote big signs and clang on cowbells. They rush the stage to take photos, even when there's an official photographer taking pictures of everybody. We're talking really crazy, disruptive behavior. One mother told me that there were "people with bullhorns going nuts" at her son's 2015 graduation proceedings from King's College in Wilkes Barre. "Me, personally, I don't care for the excessive yelling," Lee Hinton wrote in an email.

Nor do I.

Nor do a lot of people.

"I believe that there should be some decorum - basic rules about dress and behavior," Chuck Williams, director of graduate studies at Lincoln University, said. "However, folks forget that parents have supported these [and] worried about physical and psychological well-being. Therefore, when our students - their sons and daughters - finally make it to commencement, many are beside themselves, and rules about decorum get thrown out the window. This is especially the case for young men of color. [Parents] are, like, 'He made it through college, not to jail or the local morgue.' "

Call me old school, but I'm one of the ones who looks side-eyed when newly-minted grads do back flips down the aisle after getting a high-school degree. (Save it for when you get a medical degree.) Besides, these ceremonies tend to be tedious, and excessive hijinks just stretch things out even longer.

Back in the dark ages, when I graduated from high school, the nuns threatened to withhold our diplomas if any of us dared to get rowdy. I remember sitting in a pew at the cathedral barely daring to turn around to look for my parents, much less bat around a beach ball the way I've seen some grads do. Although the nuns' rules seemed unnecessarily restrictive at the time, I've learned to appreciate a certain amount of decorum on such a special day. I may be in the minority, though, judging from some random conversations I had on the topic last week.

"It's not a debutante ball. It's a graduation," pointed out West Oak Lane resident Chuck L. Herndon III. "I don't want to say that it's not that serious, but it's not."

Herndon, the father of two sons, also bristles at the idea of school administrators orchestrating how attendees dress for graduation ceremonies.

"If it's 110 degrees when my son graduates from the eighth grade in two weeks, I'm wearing shorts," he said. "I'm not graduating.

"It's condescending to tell adults how to dress," added Herndon, a network representative for Aetna.

Derek Lee, president of D&J Entertainment, in the Northeast, feels the same way about Washington Township's dress code for graduation attendees.

"If I'm out on a football field, I should be able to wear what I want to wear," said Lee, who's known to really cut up at his kids' assemblies.

At his daughter's dance recital last week at Tacony Academy Charter School, Lee brandished a gigantic cardboard cutout of his daughter's face that he waved from the audience as he screamed out, "Jessica!"

"People were trying to be all sadity because it's Tacony Charter School," Lee told me. "But whenever my baby girl did something it was, 'Jessica!' That's how you show support."

The relatives in Mississippi probably thought that they were showing support when they defied a note in the graduation program asking them to hold their applause or else be removed.

"I understood as a consequence I was going to be escorted out of the graduation, but no one told me there were going to be criminal charges against me," Ursula Miller, 45, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday.

She, along with three other relatives, are due in court tomorrow. "Maybe they'll learn their lesson," Foster said, according tothe AP. "It was not about punishing these people. It was about the rights of the other graduates."

In 2012, a South Carolina mother also was arrested after she cheered at her daughter's high-school graduation. Shannon Cooper was handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct. I can't help but feel for Cooper's daughter, who must have felt awful while her mom was detained.

What do you think? Should relatives of graduates be allowed to express themselves freely during graduation ceremonies - despite any restrictions a school might impose? Or is it important that there be a certain level of dignity and decorum?

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.


On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

Email: armstrj@phillynews.com