Waterbury graduate receives diploma following controversy over self-organized graduation ceremony

New Haven

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — A Waterbury Career Academy graduate received her diploma Friday after school administrators temporarily withheld it due to her organizing a graduation ceremony off school property.

The father of honor-roll student Jacqueline Henry told News 8 the family received a public apology and Henry’s diploma from Waterbury Superintendent Dr. Verna Ruffin at a meeting in the Mayor’s office on Friday.

Dr. Ruffin wanted to have the meeting with Henry to be used as a “teachable moment.”

Waterbury School Superintendent Dr. Verna Ruffin hands Jackie Henry her high school diploma following a meeting at the Mayor’s office in City Hall on Friday, June 26, 2020. Photo: Pete Henry

“It’s been very stressful the last several days,” Dr. Ruffin said to Henry, “And I’m really sorry.”

Left to right: Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, Jackie Henry, Pete Henry, Superintendent Dr. Verna Ruffin. Jackie received her diploma following a meeting at Waterbury City Hall Friday, June 26, 2020. (Photo: Pete Henry)

RELATED CONTENT: Waterbury honor student says superintendent ‘revoked’ her diploma after her family threw a graduation event for her class

Earlier this month, Henry went to the school to pick up her diploma when she was told it was revoked because she and her family had organized an unsanctioned graduation event for the class of 2020 off of school property.

The self-organized graduation followed CDC safety and social distancing guidelines, with graduates walking across the stage one at a time in their caps and gowns, according to the family.

Mayor Neil O’Leary spoke with News 8 on Saturday, saying that misunderstanding and miscommunication led to this situation.

“When I look at how people handle things you look at what their intent is. The intent of the superintendent was to try and keep everyone safe,” Mayor O’Leary said. “Obviously it didn’t work out that way in the sense of the communication issue came in.”

The Mayor added, “To me, it was terrible that it happened because it shouldn’t have happened but at the end of the day, again it wasn’t the superintendent’s intention to hurt Jackie. It wasn’t the superintendent’s intention to keep her diploma. It was the superintendent’s intention to leverage the diploma so that she could have a conversation with Jackie and it didn’t work out that way.”

The Superintendent’s decision to revoke the diploma became a contentious and controversial one in the Brass City. Over 4,000 people signed an online petition urging the district to give Henry her diploma.

Henry finished her senior year with a 3.8 GPA and plans to become an emergency medical technician to help people in her community.

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