Yucca Valley High School graduation ceremony embroiled in controversy

Mother of student who died not being allowed to participate in ceremony

YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. - Reyna Madrid believes she should be allowed to stand in for her late son during next month's graduation ceremony at Yucca Valley High School.

Madrid's 18-year-old son David Ericson graduated a semester early from the high school and then joined the U.S Marine Corps.  He had planned to return to lead his senior class at the ceremony.  Although never diagnosed, Madrid suspects her son suffered from severe depression.  He committed suicide on Feb. 23.

"In the blink of an eye it can happen to anybody, It can happen to any child, in a blink of an eye," said Madrid.

While Madrid is trying to cope with the loss of her son, she can't understand why administrators at Yucca Valley High School and with the Morongo Unified School District won't allow her to walk in David's place across the graduation stage to receive his diploma.

Since the school allowed two sets of parents the privilege of walking the stage in 2006 after losing children to cancer and in an auto accident, Madrid believes the manner in which her son died is the reason she is not being given the same treatment.

She also thinks the the school is committing a disservice to its graduating class.

"It scares me because they need to let our kids be aware they can go seek help.  You don't have to go hide cause it's not a sin being sick.  If you're depressed, it can kill you, you have to seek help," said Madrid.

According to Madrid, school officials told her the decision not to allow her to participate in the graduation ceremony was made by the senior class.

Brittney Beaty was a close friend and classmate of David Ericson and is one of the 240 seniors scheduled to graduate from Yucca Valley High on June 13.  She says, she heard only ASB officers weighed in on the issue.     

"If you're going to vote on such a sensitive matter like this, you should give all the seniors a ballot, and like do you want her there?  Yes.  Do you not want her there? No.  Explain, but we didn't have that," said Beaty.

Tom Baumgarten, the assistant superintendent for the Morongo Unified School District, says he hasn't been briefed on who decided to keep Madrid off the graduation stage, but wants her to know, the district plans to recognize her son at graduation and plans to present his diploma to her off stage.

"What we're trying to do is recognize the joyful time of the graduation, but also have a dignified way in which we can honor her son regardless of the cause of her son's death," said Baumgarten.

However, unless she's allowed to walk the stage, Madrid says she'll skip the graduation ceremony all together.  She doesn't need it since she's already proud of her late son.  Besides being a Marine, David Ericson was an organ donor, and his organs are now keeping people alive.

"His heart is beating in someone's body, his lungs are breathing for him somewhere.  He saved over six people," said Madrid.  "That gives me peace to know that at least I  have those parts of him out there, and he was a hero for doing that."



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