Let Rawlins walk with classmates
There is little doubt that Chavas Rawlins has been more than a stand-up kid for Monessen High School during his career.
He has been a solid student and a quality athlete who branched out into other sports. He has been more than a model for all students to emulate.
And during his senior year, he has been under the microscope more than any other Monessen athlete since Charel Allen a decade earlier.
As a highly recruited athlete, Rawlins' exploits were almost daily news throughout the Mid-Mon Valley and Pittsburgh areas. His football coach, Andy Pacak, proclaimed him to be one of the best quarterbacks in the state going into the season, which added to the pressure the high school teen had along with trying to lead the Greyhounds in their first season in the rugged Black Hills Conference.
He played a lead role in the healing that took place between the Monessen and Brentwood school districts after an alleged racial incident last year.
And after receiving a scholarship offer from West Virginia University prior to the start of the football season, Rawlins announced a bold intention to amp up his studies and graduate early from Monessen so he could leave for West Virginia and get started early on the next stage of his life.
The kid has handled himself more than admirably and brought positive publicity to his school, family and community during times when all the news coming out of Monessen was not always so positive. This newspaper thought enough about him as an athlete and student that he was chosen, along with Belle Vernon Area's Dorian Johnson, to grace the cover of the 2012 football tabloid as the area's two premier football players.
This column is not intended to be a celebration of Rawlins' outstanding high school career, even though it is sounding that way.
It's not an opportunity to make the Monessen senior seem like he is someone who is a better person than anyone else, although he has proven time and again to be the kind of kid most anyone would be proud to call a son.
What this column is about is asking a simple question that seems to defy logic.
Why isn't the Monessen School District allowing Rawlins to walk with his senior class during commencement on June 7?
His last day as a student at Monessen is Jan. 17 and he starts classes at WVU on Jan. 21.
But even though Rawlins is leaving early to jump-start his college career, one thing that has been important to him from the start is to walk in commencement exercises with his classmates — his friends — and to enjoy a moment that only happens once in a lifetime.
So why is the school district that he has served so well and brought so much positive acclaim to denying him that chance?
Is it because the school board is holding a grudge against a kid who may have shown his age with some postings he put on a social media?
Monessen Superintendent Linda Marcolini said she and Principal Brian Sutherland fully endorse allowing Rawlins to walk with his classmates.
“However, the school board feels differently,” Marcolini said. “It was a board decision. I have nine bosses and I support their decision 100 percent.”
Although Marcolini would not comment on the reasons the board gave her for not permitting Rawlins to participate in commencement, it appears some comments he made on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter — not only during his attempts to graduate early, but also in support of three football teammates who were expelled from school after an incident in which drugs and weapons were found in their lockers at the stadium — may have played a part in the decision.
“Chavas took some liberties with some comments he made (on social media) that probably didn't help him,” Marcolini said. “He thought it was a given that he could just graduate early and then he defended his teammates. He's a kid.”
She paused for a moment and said, “Everyone has ghosts in their closets.”
Marcolini has no qualms, saying if the decision were hers, Rawlins would be invited back for the June event with the other seniors.
“I would absolutely bring him back,” she said. “I love him to death. I have loved him since the first time I met him. He's a quality kid, very congenial and polite with a great head on his shoulders. He always gives me a hug when I see him.”
Then why can't the kid participate in commencement? Why is he being punished?
After all, there undoubtedly will be kids — not only at Monessen but at other schools across the nation — who will participate in commencement ceremonies whose supposed indiscretions are far worse than making controversial posts on social media.
He has never disrespected a teacher. Never struck another student. Never damaged school property. He has never been arrested.
In fact, all things being equal, he has been a real success story for Monessen, an ambassador for the district. He has shown that not only can someone be a successful student, but also a successful student athlete and a leader and have the intelligence to look into the future and have the foresight to plan his direction.
OK, so he learned a tough lesson when it comes to using social media. Who hasn't? It's a lesson many adults have yet to learn.
But he can't walk with his class?
That is a much bigger crime than any ill-advised blurting an 18-year-old kid could make on a social media account.
Think about it.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.