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Marine graduates in high school cap and gown

Contoocook Valley Regional High senior Brandon Garabrant graduated Saturday morning in a traditional cap and gown after school officials shot down his request to attend the ceremony in his Marine dress blues.

Despite a last-minute wave of support from community members and veterans across the country who supported Garabrant's request to graduate in uniform, Principal Brian Pickering stuck with a school policy that bans uniforms and requires all graduates to wear blue caps and gowns. (See related story.)

The Marine Corps supported Pickering's decision.

Garabrant was given the option of wearing his uniform under his graduation gown, which he would be free to take off once he had received his diploma. Though he considered doing that, in the end he decided it would be disrespectful to cover the uniform. He chose instead to try to honor both his high school and the corps to the best of his ability.

"Out of respect for the USMC and ConVal, I will not be wearing my military dress uniform to graduation tomorrow. I will be there in civilian clothes wearing cap & gown," PFC Garabrant said in a statement Friday.

Saturday evening, Brandon said he wanted to "follow the orders that were given for the day."

"I think the only issue is that if you haven't had the experience of going to boot camp, you can't appreciate the significance of the uniform," said Garabrant's grandfather, Ken, who added his family was extremely proud of Brandon.

Garabrant completed the credits he needed to graduate ConVal a semester early, and in March, he left for 13 weeks of boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. He became a full-fledged Marine at a camp graduation ceremony less than 24 hours before taking his place among the students of ConVal's Class of 2013.

"The graduation from boot camp was phenomenal," said Garabrant's father, John, who added that his son was aware of the decision against military uniforms, so there were no surprises.

"We had the same thing happen here last year," said Steve LaFave, a member of ConVal's Class of 2006, who thought that wearing a uniform under a graduation gown was a good compromise.

And Nawn Mease and other graduates at Saturday's commencement said the controversy didn't make a lot of sense.

"It really didn't matter if he wore his uniform," said Mease.

Bennington resident Mickey Lee, who was at ConVal to see his stepdaughter and granddaughter graduate, wore a Vietnam veteran cap to the ceremony. But Lee didn't think wearing a uniform was much of an issue.

"And besides that, it was the principal's call, and he's in charge," said Lee.

The Portsmouth Recruiting Station released a statement Friday congratulating Garabrant but supporting the school's decision to uphold its policy.

"The United States Marine Corps is proud to have( Garabrant) amongst our ranks, but support the school's decision to have Pfc. Garabrant walk across the stage in a cap and gown, as this is recognition of his accomplishments at ConVal and the final chapter of his high school career," read the statement.

His mother said. "I'm very proud of him."

Brandon said he flies out to North Carolina later this month to complete four weeks of combat training, followed by eight weeks of job training to be a combat engineer.

"The media seems to have really taken it and run with it," Jessie Garabrant said. "But we're enjoying each graduation and enjoying our time with him because he'll be leaving again soon."

Meghan Pierce contributed to this story.


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