The legacy of U.S. Marine Cpl. Brandon J. Garabrant grew Monday with the signing of a state law in his name that allows members of the Armed Forces to wear their military uniforms at high school graduation ceremonies.
“Brandon’s Law,” officially known as House Bill 1225, was signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan Monday after sweeping through the N.H. House and Senate with bipartisan support this spring. It gives graduates who have completed boot camp the right to wear their military dress uniforms instead of a cap and gown at their high school commencement ceremonies.
Garabrant, of Greenfield, was killed June 20, 2014, when the tank he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb in the southern Helman province of Afghanistan.
His death occurred one year after ConVal Regional High School administrators mandated that he wear a cap and gown, and not his Marine dress uniform, to graduation ceremonies. The decision ignited a fierce debate, not just in the ConVal community but across the nation.
Under the new law, high school administrators in New Hampshire will no longer have to wrangle with the issue, which has cropped up in several states over the past 10 to 15 years. The law states that students may wear their uniforms as long as they’ve completed requirements for high school graduation, military basic training and are active members of the Armed Forces.
“By permitting high school students who are members of the United States Armed Forces to wear their uniforms at their graduation, Brandon’s Law is a fitting tribute to Brandon’s legacy of service and a fitting way to ensure that others like Brandon will have the opportunity to demonstrate their pride in their country and in their service during one of life’s milestones. I am proud to sign this bipartisan bill into law,” Hassan said in a statement.
Attempts to reach Garabrant’s parents, John and Jessie, were unsuccessful this morning, but members of his family testified this spring before the Education Committee, which voted 19-0 to send the bill to the full House. There, it passed 292-12 and the Senate passed it last month.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Frank Edelblut, R-Wilton; Rep. Alfred Baldasaro, R-Londonderry; and Rep. Joseph Pitre, R-Farmington.
In April, the ConVal School Board approved its own motion to allow students to graduate in their military branch uniforms, effective immediately. Board member Rich Cahoon told the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript that the board would draft its formal policy after Hassan signed the bill.
This morning ConVal Principal Brian S. Pickering said he’s happy clear-cut guidelines are now in place. “I wish there had been something back then; for us, it was a matter of contacting various people who had been through it before,” he said.
In winter 2013, Garabrant’s family asked ConVal administrators to allow him to wear his Marines dress uniforms at graduation ceremonies. Garabrant graduated from boot camp in Parris Island, S.C., on a Friday and returned to ConVal in time for graduation the next day.
Pickering ultimately said no after taking the request to the school’s student council and graduation committee. Both groups recommended that Garabrant wear a cap and gown, as did School Board member Richard Dunning, an Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient who served in Vietnam. The Marines also backed the decision.
“The United States Marine Corps is proud to have him amongst our ranks, but support the school’s decision to have Pfc. Garabrant walk across the state in a cap and gown, as this is recognition of his accomplishments at ConVal and the final chapter of his high school career,” Sgt. Bryan G. Lett, public affairs chief in Portsmouth, said in a statement.
Pickering’s decision ignited a firestorm, and generated public criticism from Garabrant’s mother. Pickering says he received threats of physical harm and even late-night visits at his home from angry detractors.
“The community was supportive, but outside people were judging,” he said. “If the Marines had told me the uniform of the day should be a Marine dress uniform, you better believe I would have done what the Marines said. I was no fool. … I respect the new law and I’m thankful things will be clear, not just for me but all principals in the future.”
Ultimately, Garabrant did walk across the stage in his cap and gown, wearing a Marine Corps T-shirt underneath.