CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Josh Zeeger is ranked first academically in the 2012 Capital High School senior class, but he was the fourth-to-last student to receive a diploma at Monday night's graduation ceremony.
He shook hands with Principal Clinton Giles, took his diploma, and approached a point where all students were being photographed.
Then, a la Clark Kent, he ripped open his robe to reveal a t-shirt with bright blue letters that read "Cap Senior Class." As he marched out of the room, the rest of the Capital seniors erupted. One student gave him a hug, and others whooped and hollered.
Zeeger was one of 21 students originally banned from participating in graduation for wearing the shirt on the last day of school. Giles said last week that the shirt should not be worn because it abbreviated the word "Capital" and bore the image of a paw print, instead of the official leaping-cougar school mascot.
Although a Monday morning discussion between Superintendent Ron Duerring and Giles allowed the students to walk, that was not enough.
"It was a simple shirt," Zeeger said in the lobby of the Charleston Civic Center. "There was no reason we have been told not to wear it."
While Zeeger's 90-second display was the only sign of what Giles had called an "insurrection" relating to the banned t-shirt, it seemed to be the only thing students and families were talking about in the lobby following the two-hour ceremony.
"I thought it was in gross poor taste, reflective of a level of immaturity that does not surprise me," Giles said following the ceremony. "What astounds me was how many people in the audience seemed to be pleased with that display."
Attendees cheered and conversed throughout the event - something Giles also found disrespectful - but they positively belted their approval following Zeeger's display. Zeeger, who's also the vice president of the honor society, said he did it because he has the right to protest a decision with which he doesn't agree.
Zeeger said he didn't tell anyone his plan. Noah Moody, senior class president and creator of the t-shirt, said he had no idea. But after graduation Moody said the end of the ceremony was his favorite part.
Other students approached him after the ceremony as well; the students spoke only of Zeeger's display and the look on Giles' face.