When Daverius Peters arrived at his high school graduation ceremony on May 19, he was immediately blocked from entering the convention center where it was being held.
Peters, 18, was wearing the mandatory purple cap and gown, but a school representative standing at the front door told him his shoe selection was wrong.
“She said my shoes violated the dress code and I couldn’t attend the ceremony unless I changed them,” said Peters, a senior at Hahnville High School in Boutte, La.
According to the school’s graduation dress code, male students were to wear dark dress shoes, with an emphasis that “no athletic shoes” were to be worn.
Peters showed up that day in black leather sneakers with white soles, and while they weren’t traditional dress shoes, “I thought I could wear them because they’re black,” he said, adding that he abided by the rest of the guidelines, which stipulated that students must wear a white dress shirt and tie, as well as dark dress pants.
When he was stopped from entering the front door, “I was in shock,” Peters recalled. “I felt humiliated. I just wanted to walk across the stage and get my diploma.”
He started to panic, he said, imagining what his parents would think if he wasn’t permitted to attend his own graduation. With only minutes until the ceremony was set to start, “I didn’t have time to stop at a store,” Peters said.
He paced nervously outside the convention center, until he suddenly spotted a familiar face: John Butler.
Butler, 38, is a paraeducator at the school and mentors many of the students — including Peters. He was attending the ceremony as a parent rather than as a staff member, since his daughter was graduating, too.
Peters ran over to Butler and explained the shoe situation.
“Of course, that sounded crazy to me,” said Butler, who has worked at the school for two years. “There was nothing eccentric about his shoes.”
He approached the woman who had barred Peters from entering, “hoping that maybe if she saw me with him, she would let it go,” Butler said. “But she insisted on not letting this young man in, and I didn’t have time to go back and forth with her.”
So, without hesitation, Butler bent down and did what he felt he had to do: He gave the student the shoes off his feet.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “This was the most important moment in his life up to that point, and I wasn’t going to let him miss it for anything.”
There was, however, one considerable problem: “He wears a size 9, and I wear a size 11.”
Ignoring the size discrepancy, Peters excitedly slid into Butler’s tan loafers and bolted inside for the ceremony, just as the doors were closing. Butler took his seat wearing only socks, proudly disregarding the glares from people confused by his lack of footwear.
“I was just happy to see him receive his diploma,” he said.
When his name was called, Peters shuffled across the stage in Butler’s oversize shoes.
“The shoes were so big; I couldn’t even walk. I was sliding,” Peters said.