HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new law Thursday that allows high school seniors serving in the military to wear their military uniforms at graduation.
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The fight to pass the bill into law started with an exclusive story aired on Spectrum Bay News 9.
Newsome High School Senior Emily Olson, then a member of the military's Split program, wore her military uniform to graduation last year, only to be told she couldn’t walk with her class if she didn’t cover it up with a cap and gown.
Now, thanks to this new law, no other high school senior will have to sit out their graduation, fully dressed in their military uniform like Olson did.
Olson herself said she couldn’t be more proud.
“I was excited to hear about Governor DeSantis signing the bill into law. It was unfortunate that I was excluded last year due to my affiliation with the military,” she said. “It’s my hope that future high school students who also serve like I did, will receive the respect they deserve from the Florida educators.”
A vow to create change
Olson showed up to graduation in her dress blues. She said when she refused to change into her cap and gown she says she was forced to sit and watch from the audience as her classmates walked across the stage.
It’s something Sen. Tom Lee vowed to change when we told him about her story.
“When you see these things happen and it’s a bit unconscionable to you that this can occur in America, you try to take the cause on and see what the statutes say, what’s the challenge you have to overcome to get it done and make it priority, and that’s what we did,” Lee said.
And while Olson has graduated and moved away, she agrees with Lee that her sacrifice for her country and sitting out graduation in her uniform will help others for many years to come.
“This young woman has set an example and what happened to her won’t happen again," Lee said. "And we can’t fix her graduation got messed up, but we can sure make sure it doesn’t happen to another young person.”
“People who are willing to step up and serve they deserve every deference that we can give them,” he added.
We found students from all over the country who joined the military’s Split program during their junior year of high school. To be clear, this isn’t ROTC — Olson and students in the Split program usually have already completed basic training. Olson was already a member of the Army Reserves.
The new law will go into effect July 1.