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Deja vu: Marine not allowed to march in graduation in dress blues

It happened again.

Marine Pvt. Megan Howerton completed her high school's requirements for graduation in December so that she could ship out to boot camp, but she was not allowed to march with her class at the school's graduation ceremony while wearing her dress blues.

During the May 19 ceremony, other students at McHenry High School-West in Illinois began spontaneously chanting "Let Megan walk," a source familiar with the event told Marine Corps Times. Howerton, who was sitting in the stands, was not involved at all with those students.

The incident kicked up a social media firestorm with the people using the #LetMeganWalk hashtag on Twitter to vent at the high school, but Howerton wants people to settle down so she can focus on being a Marine.

"I was informed of the school policy and I wore my Dress Blues without putting on the gown," Howerton said in a statement issued through the Marine Corps. "I do not want the controversy that is saturating social media, and I do not want to draw attention away from the Class of 2016.

"That being said, it was my choice not to participate in the graduation. I do not want to make any additional statements and wish to put this all behind me so I can start my career in the Marine Corps."

The Marine Corps appreciates the sense of accomplishment that Howerton feels when she wears her uniform, but it also recognizes that schools have the discretion to determine what students wear at graduation, said Sgt. Trevon Peracca, a spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Station Chicago.

Howerton's military occupational specialty is aviation ordnance and she began Marine Combat Training this month, Peracca said.

McHenry Community High School District #156 has posted a message on its Facebook page saying school officials were not trying to prevent Howerton or any of her classmates in taking part in the graduation.

"In some past cases, active-duty students elected to wear their gowns over top of their military uniforms, with their military hats, which was allowed," the May 20 message says. "The tradition of cap and gown regalia is aimed at the idea that our graduates are celebrated as a whole and in similar attire."

The school district also called the uproar surrounding officials' decision not to allow Howerton to march in her uniform "unfortunate."

"McHenry Community High School has a long standing history of avid support for our military branches of service," the Facebook message says. "This includes individual recognition of enlistees at the graduation ceremony itself, including enlistees in the presentation of the colors, and special recognition to all veterans in the audience."

The event comes less than three weeks after New Hampshire passed a law allowing service members to wear their military uniforms at graduation. The law was named after Lance Cpl. Brandon Garabrant, whose high school told him in June 2013 that he would have to wear his dress blues underneath his cap and gown at graduation. He was later killed in Afghanistan.

"In 2014, New Hampshire was devastated by the tragic loss of Brandon Garabrant, who was bravely serving his nation in Afghanistan," New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement after signing the law. "A volunteer firefighter and dedicated Marine, Brandon was committed to serving his fellow citizens, and he had previously wanted to wear his dress uniform to his high school graduation. Unfortunately, he was denied that opportunity."

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