DeAndre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, was suspended and barred from walking in his graduation ceremony unless he chops his locks.
Arnold’s father is from Trinidad and locks are part of the culture.
“I really like that part of Trinidadian culture; I really embrace that,” Arnold previously told KPRC.
In an episode of the “Ellen” show that aired on Wednesday, DeGeneres spoke with him about the controversy, and later surprised Arnold with a $20,000 scholarship.
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“Let’s say you want to go back to school tomorrow. What happens?” DeGeneres asked him, The Hill reports.
“So, if I go back to school tomorrow, my only options are in school suspension or alternative school,” the 18-year-old responded, adding: “Alternative school is where all the kids that have behavioral issues, sell drugs, fight all the time.”
“Like I wish the best for them and I know they have good qualities in them,” he continued. “But I don’t deserve to be grouped with them.”
“No,” DeGeneres agreed. “You have good grades. You don’t do drugs. You don’t do any of that.”
“And they won’t allow you to walk in graduation, which is the biggest – you get that far through school, and you want to walk graduation,” she continued.
“Like, I’ve worked for this all my life. I’ve strived for this. I deserve this moment, to walk across stage and enter into life. My parents deserve this. Like, they’re the ones who, you know, they got me through anything. And you know, they just taught me everything. They deserve to see me walk across the stage,” Arnold said.
Later in the show, Ellen urged the Texas school district to “do the right thing,” before surprising Arnold with a $20,000 scholarship from Shutterfly that was presented by Alicia Keys.
“I want to tell you that, I couldn’t believe the story when I heard it,” the singer told Arnold. “And I’m super proud of you for standing up for what you know is right. And I know that the school needs to do the right thing.”
Meanwhile, school officials have pushed back on claims that their hair/dress code policy is “racist.”
“Barbers Hill ISD has a long standing dress code, but we absolutely allow dreadlocks. What we do not allow is any action that circumvents or violates the provision regarding hair length,” a representative from school district told The Hill in a written statement. “The student in question was NEVER forbidden from attending school.”
Arnold, however, refuses to cut dreadlocks shorter.
“It’s part of our culture and our heritage,” he told Ellen. “And I really wish the school would kind of be open to other cultures, and just at least let us try to tell you some things. Don’t just shut us out.”
Scroll up and watch his moment with Ellen via the YouTube clip above.