Girl's family upset over graduation mistake

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Yadeerah Chisom's graduation program omitted her name and her cap had no tassel. After a Facebook post, the school stepped in.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Yadeerah Chisom's graduation program omitted her name and her cap had no tassel. After a Facebook post, the school stepped in.
Posted: June 26, 2014

LIKE ANY PROUD parent, Michele Davis was excited about her daughter's big day - seeing 17-year-old Yadeerah Chisom walk across the stage at West Philadelphia High School to receive her diploma.

But that excitement quickly turned to disappointment when she realized Yadeerah's name was omitted from the graduation program and she didn't get a tassel for her cap. When Davis approached school officials before the ceremony, they told her there was nothing they could do about it, she said.

"If I paid my dues, I feel as though she should be entitled to everything, down to the tassel [and] her name being in the program and everything," Davis said.

Davis persisted and asked the school for a correction so that she could send copies of the program to family members, but instead of making amends, a staffer told her she should "be happy" her daughter got her diploma and got to walk across the stage.

Davis said she believes she was brushed aside because Yadeerah - who was born 13 weeks premature and has cerebral palsy - was in a special-education class.

"It's like they just wanted to push it to the side. I wanted her name in the program [just like] everybody else's," she said.

Davis took to Facebook to express her frustration with the district's response. Her posting quickly went viral, and by yesterday, it had more than 7,000 "likes" and 1,500 comments.

The post apparently drew the attention of Sylvia Simms, a member of the School Reform Commission, and Assistant Superintendent Donyall Dickey, who both contacted Davis earlier this week to apologize. Davis then got a call from the school's principal, Mary Dean, who said the program would be corrected, reprinted and delivered to the family.

Davis said she received copies of the amended program and Yadeerah's tassel yesterday - in the mail slot of her door. As soon as Davis opened the envelope, she said, Yadeerah came and looked over her shoulder to find her name in the program. She also asked her mother if she could put on her graduation cap with the tassel.

"For her to have to fight to stay in this world being born premature, it was just hurtful, and then to be talked to [that way] on top of that, I thought was rude and unprofessional," Davis said.

Yadeerah weighed 1.7 pounds at birth, Davis said. Doctors said that she would never walk or talk, but miraculously, at age 3, she began walking on her own.

When asked how she felt about seeing her name in the program yesterday, Yadeerah said, "A little bit happy 'cause it had my friends' names in it and mine."

Not only did they get justice, but the family was also contacted by Gene Banks, the legendary West Philly High alum and founder of the Gene Banks League Foundation. Banks, a former pro basketball player, is taking the family to dinner tomorrow and plans to surprise Yadeerah with a scholarship.

"When I saw the story and the information that was given to me, to hear what happened, at any school, to any student is disheartening," Banks said, "but more so when it comes to my high school."

Davis said she is thankful for all those who helped circulate her message, and for the feedback - both positive and negative - she received on Facebook.

"Don't just settle for less," Davis said. "Everyone should be treated equal."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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