High school student's viral protest against book ban at graduation ceremony

High school student Annabelle Jenkins went viral on TikTok after protesting her school's book ban at her graduation ceremony.

Jenkins recently graduated from the West Ada School District in Idaho. Unfortunately, her school district is one of many across the country that have fallen victim to conservative book ban efforts. In December 2023, the district evaluated a list of 44 books that had been challenged and ultimately decided to remove ten of the titles from the shelves of all of its schools. The titles include Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Talewhich is becoming increasingly relevant at a time when reproductive rights are under attack, as well as Jaycee Dugard’s powerful memoir A stolen lifeand Rupi Kaur's poetry collection The sun and its flowers.

On her graduation day, Jenkins responded to her school district's book bans with an action that earned her the nickname “Icon” in the TikTok community.

Annabelle Jenkins protests against book bans at her graduation ceremony

Jenkins didn't tell anyone about her plans for her graduation ceremony, nor did she expect her act of defiance to garner nearly 25 million views on TikTok. When it was her turn to take the stage at the ceremony, she stopped in front of the school's principal, Dr. Derek Bub. Instead of shaking his hand, she pulled out a book hidden in the sleeve of her graduation gown. Silently, she shows the audience the book, a copy of The Handmaid's Talewhich she then hands to Bub. When Bub sees the book cover, he crosses his arms and refuses to even touch the book. Jenkins then leaves the book at his feet before completing her graduation walk.

The footage was recorded and posted to Jenkins' TikTok account, where it quickly went viral, garnering 2.7 million likes and being flooded with comments from users praising her actions and remembering how impactful the reading was. The Handmaid's Tale was for her.

After her video went viral, Jenkins soon told the full story behind her legendary graduation stunt, emphasizing the impact book ban efforts have on students and school staff. Most of the discussions and decisions about banning the books at West Ada took place behind closed doors. Fortunately, Jenkins overheard an argument about The Handmaid's Tale She was shocked to learn that many more titles were being challenged. She joined forces with several students and parents and acted quickly: She started an Instagram page with the username “Save Our Libraries West Ada” and a petition calling on the school to protect students' rights.

The students had the support of the school librarian, teachers, and even the principal. Moreover, they were willing to compromise and accept restrictions if it meant that the books did not have to be completely removed from the shelves. However, when the matter reached the administrative level, they hit a brick wall. It was decided that the decision would rest solely with a review committee. No students, parents, librarians, or teachers were allowed to participate in the committee, except for a single English teacher. The committee decided to remove the books completely, with no interference from students or the long-serving school librarian.

Additionally, Jenkins was shocked when, at another meeting, Bub downplayed the importance of students having access to a physical library and was surprised that students did not want to switch to a fully digital library. She believes these issues ultimately led to the school librarian's retirement, stating, “She wanted to keep doing her job, but she couldn't stand to continue working in the environment the district was creating.” That librarian attended her graduation ceremony and was moved to tears by Jenkins' act.

Unfortunately, the actions of the West Ada Board of Review and the superintendent are not surprising. Several other school districts have come under fire for a possible lack of transparency and abuse of power, as board members increasingly take matters into their own hands, banning books and cutting chapters in textbooks while ignoring or even excluding public input. Jenkins' act of defiance shows how fed up students are with book bans and being completely left out of book ban decisions when they have the most to lose.

Her video is also eye-opening and shows how absurd the whole book banning movement has become: millions of viewers saw a man so offended by a single book that he couldn't even touch it.

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