Supporters line up behind Rawlins
Regardless of whether or not Chavas Rawlins is permitted to walk with his class during Monessen High School's commencement ceremonies June 7, he plans to be there.
“If I can't walk, I will be sitting right there in the front row to see all my friends and buddies go get their diplomas,” said Rawlins, a star athlete and senior at Monessen.
Rawlins will be graduating early from Monessen and will begin classes at West Virginia University, where he received a full football scholarship.
His last day at Monessen is Jan. 17 and he begins classes at WVU Jan. 21.
Rawlins said he is disappointed that the Monessen School District is not permitting him to participate in the commencement program because he is graduating early. However, he said although walking with his class is important to him, it is something he doesn't want to fight about.
“Like I said, I'll be there no matter what,” he said.
When word of the decision by the Monessen School Board to not let Rawlins walk with his class became public on Wednesday, a huge stir of support for the popular student-athlete began to swell.
Rawlins has received support from numerous people, especially on the social network Facebook, where a petition has been started to have people sign in an effort to coax the school board to change its mind.
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch also reached out to the school board via Facebook, asking the board to “Do the right thing and let this young man walk for his commencement.”
Batch said he did not intend for his social media postings to create a firestorm of support, merely to get the district to do the right thing.
Batch got to know Rawlins when Batch was a liaison during a racial flap between the Monessen and Brentwood school districts last year. Rawlins was part of the Monessen contingent of students who worked with Batch and Brentwood students to change relations between the two schools.
“I just simply want the right thing done,” Batch said. “It was the same thing I felt back in February (when news of the incident between Brentwood and Monessen became public).”
Rawlins said he spoke with Batch briefly and the Steelers player told him to keep his head up.
“He told me he asked some of his teammates to support me on their Twitter accounts,” Rawlins said.
Batch said he can't think of what Rawlins could have done so wrong that the school board would not permit him to participate in commencement.
“There will be kids participating who, for whatever reason, won't even be graduating,” Batch said. “Maybe they owe the school $500 for books or maybe they need to take summer school to earn their credits. They still get to walk. So why would they punish this kid who earned all of his requirements early?”
Rawlins said he is in awe of the support he has received because of the controversy.
“I must have heard from 90 percent of the people in Monessen and people elsewhere,” said the soft-spoken Rawlins. “It makes me feel real comfortable to see so many people really care about me, about the person I've become and how I've established myself.”
Other than the support, Rawlins said he does not want to comment on the situation, saying he hopes the decision is reversed.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or email@example.com.