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‘She Stole That Moment from Me’: Philadelphia High School Principal Who Denied Graduate Diploma After She Danced on Stage Replaced By District

A Philadelphia-area school principal who was caught on video denying a girl her diploma after she danced across the stage has been replaced.

The Philadelphia High School for Girls shared a letter with the school community detailing the decision to replace principal Lisa Mesi. Now Janis Butler is at the helm as a “substitute principal.”

Philadelphia High School for Girls principal Lisa Mesi was replaced following an incident where she was caught on video denying a graduate her high-school diploma (Left photo: Philadelphia High School for Girls website, Right photo: YouTube screenshot/WPVI)

This news comes after a video went viral in June showing 17-year-old Hafsah Abdur-Rahman doing a dance called “The Griddy,” which drew laughter from the crowd. After she made it to the front and approached the principal, Mesi refused to hand her the diploma and requested that she return to her seat.

Three other girls also were denied their diplomas for putting on similar displays. All of the graduates received their diplomas off-stage.

Abdur-Rahman was interviewed by local news station WPVI and called the experience “embarrassing” and “unfair.” She also criticized the principal for her actions.

“She stole that moment from me,” said Abdur-Rahman. “I will never get that again. It was just embarrassing. She didn’t have to do that.”

The Philadelphia School District released an apology to the families of the graduates who were denied their diplomas.

“The District does not condone the withholding of earned diplomas based on family members cheering for their graduates,” it states. “We apologize to all the families and graduates who were impacted and are further looking into this matter to avoid it happening in the future.”

Mesi had been the principal at the High School for Girls since 2019. Philadelphia School District associate superintendent Tomás Hanna said her removal represents a “temporary change in leadership” and said that “Dr. Butler is excited to support the school community to help set the stage for a successful 2023-2024 school year.”

Hanna added, “While this is the only information I can share at this time, I am committed to providing updates as additional information becomes available.”

It is unknown if Mesi will be reinstated to her position in the future.

Former students released a statement of support weeks after the graduation incident defending Mesi and her actions, part of which said:

“The Alumnae Association and our Board of Directors fully support Principal Mesi. She is a compassionate leader and outspoken advocate for our little sisters. We are fortunate to have her shepherding our alma mater through incredibly difficult years – through city-wide budget cuts, policy changes and a global pandemic that magnified every obstacle the faculty, administration and our dear little sisters have faced. The current media tempest regarding the temporary withholding of a diploma to a few students during the June 9, 2023, graduation ceremony is headline-grabbing and click bait. It does not reflect in any way the overall tone and tenor of the day.”

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