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High school students celebrate wearing cultural, religious items at graduation

Posted at 9:19 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 23:28:22-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Cue the pomp and circumstance: Thursday was graduation day for the Jordan School District.

“I think when I turned my tassel with my friends it was like, ‘We’re actually over. Our journey together is done,’” said Copper Hills High School graduate Larissa Vea.

The ceremonies were a historical first for the district. Students now have more freedom over what they can wear during the ceremony to represent their religion and culture.

A new state law allows high school graduates to wear Native American tribal regalia. Last week, the Jordan School District board voted to allow students to wear leis and other “recognized items of religious or cultural significance” during the ceremony.

“This is so awesome that we get to finally wear something that is part of our own culture to a ceremony that we’ve been waiting for our whole lives,” said Vea.

Students pushed for the opportunity before the school board last Tuesday. Siblings Mohmmad and Fatima Al-Saedi both made sure their voices were heard.

“As my vice principal said, ‘You guys are the reason to change.’ So I said, ‘OK, let’s change it,’” said Mohmmad Al-Saedi.

The unanimous decision came after almost an hour of public comment and forty minutes of discussion among boardmembers.

“Everyone has a story, but we need to show it, truly,” said Mohmmad Al-Saedi. “Not just hide it in the background.”

The district decided to make an exception to the policy for the 2022 spring class only because boardmembers didn’t think they’d have enough time to rewrite it in time for the graduation ceremonies. They intend to review it later this year.

“I just want it for when my sisters graduate high school,” said Fatima Al-Saedi. “That they feel the same thing I’m feeling right now. I hope every person of color that gets to express their culture in any way gets to feel that amazing feeling.”

During her time at Copper Hills, Vea served on student government as a historian. She also received her associate’s degree through the Salt Lake Community College. She plans to study architecture and design at the University of Utah.

For Fatima and Mohmmad Al-Saedi, the siblings were both leaders of many school clubs. Mohmmad focused most of his free time on philanthropic and medical help for Shriners Children’s Salt Lake City. Fatima ran a carnival at school to showcase other cultures.

Mohmmad is a Utah Jazz scholar and plans to major in biomedical engineering and minor in religious studies at the University of Utah. Fatima also plans to attend the U and study social justice. The twins both hope to be part of Doctors Without Borders in their future.