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Hamish Jacobs, 19, was told he couldn't wear kilt to his high-school graduation in Raymond, Alta. (David Rossiter for the Globe and Mail)
Hamish Jacobs, 19, was told he couldn't wear kilt to his high-school graduation in Raymond, Alta. (David Rossiter for the Globe and Mail)

Alberta

No kilt at graduation, school tells Alberta teen Add to ...

Hamish Jacobs has only worn a kilt once. He tried on the blue-and-green tartan of his mother's Forbes clan two months ago, to make sure he could wear it to his high-school graduation in late June.

"It fit perfect," he said.

His decision to wear the kilt stirred pride in his family, who immigrated to Canada from the Scottish city of Perth in 1965, but has tried to hold on to some of its roots.

But that was before, in the spirit of politeness, he asked his principal whether he could wear the kilt on stage, before he was told that he could not - and well before his plight would win him thousands of supporters on Facebook and around the world.

Mr. Jacobs, a 19-year-old supervisor at Little Caesar's pizza in Lethbridge, Alta., and an apprentice automotive service technician, attends high school in Raymond, a town in Southern Alberta.

The Grade 12 student has never been to Scotland, and has no immediate intention of going there. He applied for a passport two months ago primarily so he could cross into the United States, where, he said Sunday, "there's a lot of cheap truck parts."

But three weeks ago, he went to his high-school principal to ask if he could wear a kilt beneath his graduation gown, a tribute to a Scottish-Canadian upbringing that had included sampling haggis and turnips on Robbie Burns Day.

"I want to wear it out of respect for my ancestors, and because it's just what Scottish people wear to formal things," Mr. Jacobs said.

He does not own a kilt, which can cost upwards of $1,000, and, to the inexperienced hand, take an hour to don. He planned instead to borrow the one he tried on, which belongs to an uncle.

But his principal "just said no right away," Mr. Jacobs said.

Kilts, Mr. Jacobs was told, do not fit the dress code for graduation - although he would be allowed to wear it during a post-convocation dinner. An appeal to the superintendent of the Westwind School Division received the same answer. Mr. Jacobs is now considering an appeal to the school board in early June.

"I find it funny. The school teaches you to respect your heritage, be different, be yourself. And so I am going to be different, being myself. And they don't like that," he said.

Neither Raymond High School principal Mark Beazer nor Westwind School Division superintendent Doug Bennett returned calls Sunday.

The issue has stirred up a whirlwind of debate, with Mr. Jacobs's story recounted in the Scottish Sunday Mail and on a Facebook page, launched by a family friend, that has attracted nearly 1,900 comments. One compares Mr. Jacobs's plight to that of an Ottawa high school student who had to fight to bring a gay partner to his Catholic prom. Another howls: "This is PUBLIC school not a MORMON one."

Another pledges to write human-rights authorities - Mr. Jacobs himself has told the school he believes his Charter rights are being violated in what his Facebook page calls an "unforgivable sin." Another suggests: "u should threaten them to go to the media. That will scare them coz they wont want the bad publicity."

In fact, the family has done just that. A friend contacted The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which is hosted by an expatriate Scot. The family has not heard back. Mr. Jacobs's mother alerted reporters to the case, which has also won some detractors, who say a school should be allowed to maintain its own rules.

But there is little debate in the Scottish community, which has been wearing kilts to weddings, funerals and other formal events for years.

"It's nuts. He's a kid who is embracing his heritage. He's not trying to take a knife or wear a shirt that denounces some political party," said Stephanie McSween, a long-time bagpiper in Calgary.

Some have worried that a kilt on a high-school student could provide an opportunity for unnecessary exhibition. Ms. McSween doubts it.

"I have a number of piping students who have worn kilts to their graduation," she said. "There have been no wardrobe malfunctions of any sort."

 

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