McNary graduate Wocus Gibbons walks across the stage to collect a hard-earned diploma.
When Wocus Gibbons woke up on Friday, Aug. 7, there was no plan for a political statement at the upcoming graduation.
“It didn’t even cross my mind that the national anthem was going to be played,” Gibbons said.
When running through the events of the day, the staff informed the class of 2020 that they would walk to their seats, stand while Principal Erik Jespersen introduced them, listen to the anthem and take their seats when Jespersen invited them too.
“I just went no, I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to continue doing what I’ve always done, sit down,” Gibbons said. This practice has been going on for nearly seven years.
For Gibbons choosing not to stand during the national anthem is not a protest of police brutality, “I didn’t kneel because for me it’s less of a political statement in the sense of things that are happening around us right now,” Gibbons said. “Although I am very much in support of people peacefully protesting like that.”
For Gibbons the discontent with America steams from being Native American.
“As a native person, and a native student, I don’t really ally myself with this country and stand for the national anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance to a country that has never done anything for me and my people,” Gibbons said.
At the graduation Gibbons could be seen with an eagle feather and stole adorning the standard McNary graduation attire in celebration of being a native student. When Gibbons’ sister graduated several years ago, she was not permitted to wear the feather on her cap since graduates are not allowed to decorate their caps at McNary graduation– instead she wore it in her hair.
Years later, when Gibbons did not have a tassel to go on the cap, the feather made a reappearance– this time on top of the cap.
“I figured they’re not going to let me not graduate if I’m wearing something slightly out of the regulations, so I stuck it on as a tassel,” Gibbons said.
Despite the controversy around not standing for the National Anthem, Gibbons has not personally received any backlash.
“I feel like when people hear my reasons why I don’t stand for the national anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance, as a native person, most people understand,” Gibbons said.
“It’s something I always have done and something I always am going to do,” Gibbons said.