By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Mason parents and students were happy to focus on high school's pomp and circumstance rather than the pranks and criminal charges that marred the days before Saturday's graduation ceremonies at the Cintas Center.
More than 5,000 traveled from Mason High School's Warren County community to the Xavier University campus to cheer on their daughters, sons and relatives. A senior class of more than 400 filed onstage to receive their diplomas in a ceremony that was uneventful compared to the controversy at the school last week.
A senior prank that left a peacock and rabbit dead after some birds and small animals were stolen and then released in the high school on Tuesday led to nine Mason seniors banned from the graduation ceremonies. Some face charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies in connection with trespassing, breaking and entering, animal cruelty and receiving stolen property.
At the graduation, some Mason supporters expressed embarrassment about the incident.
"They went too far and it made us look bad," Debra Whitson, a freshman who watched her older brother graduate, said of the breaking into a Mason-area barn to steal animals and birds to release in the high school.
Kevin Yoder, a Mason sophomore, criticized the seniors involved, saying, "I thought it was lame and harsh toward the animals."
Both agreed that the punishment meted out by school administrators to the nine seniors - being banned from Saturday's graduation ceremonies - was fair, as did Aloisia Wallace, who watched her grandson receive his diploma.
"It's embarrassing and bad for the school," Wallace said.
Lewis Ridener, who watched his stepdaughter graduate, said even though "kids will be kids," he believed the criminal aspects of the prank made it more than inappropriate.
Ridener agreed not only with the banning of the nine students but also with the Mason school officials' decision to grant diplomas to those accused seniors, despite their disallowance from graduation ceremonies.
There was no mention of the incident by school officials nor any other pranks attempted by the seniors other than a few loud blasts from air horns snuck into the Cintas Center and an impromptu back-flip from one graduate that drew enthusiastic cheers.
Instead, Mason officials proudly pointed to the seniors as the first graduating class from Mason's new high school, including four National Merit finalists and 91 who have received either academic or athletic scholarships.
Mason Principal Bob Carter told the crowd that throughout history "so many critical things have been said about teenagers," but what young people need is "a lot of accentuating of the positive."
Two of the 11 students appealed their earlier bans to the Mason Board of Education. Friday, the board agreed to allow the two, who the board said had relatively little involvement in the incident, to join the ceremony.
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