Student Denied Diploma After Wearing Mexican Flag at Graduation: It 'Means Everything to Me'

North Carolina student Ever Lopez wore a Mexican flag around his shoulders — and the school district said it was a violation of the dress code

A North Carolina high school principal came under fire after she denied an 18-year-old student his diploma when he wore a Mexican flag during a graduation ceremony. The school district said the decision stemmed from a violation of dress code protocols, and the student eventually received his diploma.

During his graduation from Asheboro High School on Thursday, Ever Martinez Lopez was seen in a viral TikTok video wearing a Mexican flag over his blue gown as he approached the school's principal, Penny Crooks.

As Lopez went to receive his diploma holder, Crooks was seen talking with him, and soon boos were heard from the audience, the video shows. According to Adolfo Hurtado, Lopez's cousin who posted the video, Crooks had asked Lopez to remove the flag, and he declined.

As he walked away from Crooks, Lopez raised his fist in the air while many in the crowd cheered and applauded. Hurtado later said that Lopez was denied his diploma when he went to pick it up from the school following the event.

A separate video shows Crooks — who did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment — standing alongside police officers during a confrontation with students demanding the diploma as Lopez was nearby.

"He and his parents can come back tomorrow, and we can talk about it," Crooks said in the clip. "Go on."

Asheboro police have said they are investigating alleged threats sent to Crooks, the district's public information officer Leigh Anna Marbert and Asheboro High School, according to NBC affiliate WXII. Officers were sent to Crooks' neighborhood for protection, the outlet reported.

"It's not just Ever's diploma. It's all of ours diploma. It's our community's diploma," his mother, Margarita Lopez, said at a press conference, according to WRAL. "We will keep moving forward so that this does not happen to any other student."

Margarita and her husband are originally from Zacatecas, Mexico, and moved to the United States decades ago, they told the Washington Post.

In the days following the incident, a petition asking the school to give Lopez his diploma has received more than 100,000 signatures.

"The flag means everything to me and my family because it's what is in our blood," Lopez told the New York Times. "It's where we came from, and I'd do anything to represent."

In a statement on the Asheboro City Schools website on Friday, the district said Lopez did not receive his diploma with other students due to "a violation of the dress code," and that the incident "has been misrepresented across a number of social media platforms."

"First and foremost, we strongly support our students' expressions of their heritage in the appropriate time and place," they said, in part. "Our graduation dress code is clearly shared with students ahead of time, and the wearing of a flag of any kind is a violation of the dress code."

Following criticism, the school said they would consider reevaluating their guidelines to allow students to express themselves outside of customizing their mortarboards (academic caps), which is the only option currently allowed.

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In another statement on Friday, the district maintained that the incident was "not about the Mexican flag," calling the graduation "a milestone event and it is grossly unfair for one individual to diminish this event by violating the dress code."

In an update on Monday, the district said Lopez eventually received his diploma, writing, "As with all graduates, we wish him well and we will continue to serve our community in ways that help all young people meet their full potential."

Lopez is the first person in his immediate family to graduate from high school.

"We are so grateful to this country for all the opportunities it has given us," Margarita told the Post while discussing the incident involving her son's diploma, "but the moment was just such a disappointment."

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