DANA POINT – Jon Kari has scheduled an appointment next week to get his senior portrait taken for the Dana Hills High School yearbook. He’ll wear a white dress shirt with a leather string holding a wooden cross around his neck.
It’s his second try.
A week ago, Kari, who is half Filipino, posed for the yearbook with a keffiyeh – a scarf often associated with the Middle East – wrapped around his head and neck. He said later his intention was to make a point about stereotyping.
That photograph sparked fierce debate among Dana Hills High students – and made national and international headlines – after yearbook student editor Sara Madani told Kari it was inappropriate for the yearbook. Backed by officials with the school and Capistrano Unified School District, she offered to let him retake the photo for free.
Both Dana Hills seniors say they have learned something about themselves and public perception in the last week. Kari said he’s glad he had the opportunity to exercise his First Amendment rights, and appreciates the support from those who know him. Madani said she is proud that – despite the pressure – she was able to stand fast to her decision not to use the photo.
Kari, who along with his father had pushed for the district’s Board of Trustees to take a second look at Madani’s decision, said he decided to drop the issue because he felt his point has been made.
“It sparked a lot of discussion and, I hope, opened people’s eyes, even if they don’t admit it,” the 18-year-old said. “At this point my point is made and going farther wouldn’t make any sense.”
Still, he’s trying to make another point by wearing the cross.
“If I retake the picture with the cross, they won’t censor it,” Kari said. “They won’t ask me, ‘Are you really Christian?’”
Madani, who said she is of Middle Eastern descent, said she told Kari the scarf could be perceived as offensive. She also noted he was not Muslim.
“If he was wearing it for religious or cultural purposes as an everyday outfit, he’d be welcome to wear it in the yearbook,” she said.
Madani said her 30-member yearbook staff agreed with her. And that since 1971, when the school’s first yearbook was published, no senior portraits have included head gear.
Madani is satisfied that the yearbook will be the appropriate memoir and tribute to the senior class that she and her staff had planned. And she’s happy Kari has chosen to be part of that experience.
“When he looks back, he can see himself included in the senior section and smile and have good memories,” she said.
Both students say their perspectives were validated by the public response, but added they were surprised by the impact from the media attention.
“I had no idea when this started it would get so big,” Madani said. “I posted a story link on Instagram and Facebook and I was overwhelmed with the crazy amount of support. It brought tears to my eyes. People I haven’t talked to in years supported me.”
Kari said he had hoped the media attention would have pressured district officials to back him. He also thought the debate that ensued was healthy until he was called an “attention seeker” on his Instagram account, he said.
“People are talking about me more negative than positive at school,” Kari said. “If it’s based on popularity, people don’t favor me. But I don’t, like, stress over an image that you’re going to lose when you go to college.”
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