Every year since anyone can remember, Saugerties High School seniors, decked out in school colors with faces and vehicles painted, have massed in the Simmons Plaza parking lot early on the first day of school, then proceeded over to the campus motorcade-style. We always send a photographer over, and students always mug for the camera. Out of the dozens of photos that were taken, there was one in which several students decided to goof off and make a few obscene gestures, surely assuming that wouldn’t be the photograph that would appear in the newspaper.
But it did. Among the vast majority of students holding up two index fingers to signify 2011, their graduation year, one student held up two middle fingers. I didn’t notice that. Another couple of students were making a gesture whose significance I wouldn’t have known even if I had noticed it. The photographer who took the pictures didn’t notice the gestures and submitted this photo as the lone group shot, and on the week of the first day of school, we always publish a big group shot of the high school seniors on the front page. Since I only had one to choose from, I didn’t scrutinize the photo much.
I apologize to readers who were offended by this. I’d be offended, too. I accept all of the blame for allowing this photo to be published. The students should not be blamed.
I’ve heard there’s been some talk among school officials of canceling the Simmons Plaza parking lot tradition in light of this embarrassing incident. I understand why the school, after receiving even more complaints than we did, would want to prevent this from happening again. But I hope the tradition isn’t canceled because of an oversight on the part of the local newspaper. The worst part about this was how public it was, not what it may or may not have said about the teens in the photo. It says nothing about them. They were just goofing around.
That’s not to say lessons weren’t learned. I’m sure those students who were reprimanded for this learned that it’s important not to put your good name at risk even when you’re sure what you’re doing will never see the light of day (think Facebook and any personal info in digital form). For our part, we’ll be sure to take a good look at all photos and screen them for this sort of thing. Our readers and the young people (and their families) deserve that extra look.