WALDORF, Md. - For her high school graduation ceremony this week, Dylan McCabe planned to honor her Native American heritage by walking across the stage in a ceremonial dress under her graduation gown and wearing moccasins on her feet.
"I want to have that connection to my Navajo side as I walk across that stage," she told FOX 5.
She said she didn't think it would be a problem, but considering her Charles County high school has a graduation dress code, she decided to check with her principal.
"He only approved the dress because it was not visible, but he didn't approve the leggings and moccasins because they showed," McCabe said.
The moccasins have special significance, she said. They were the same ones she wore during a four-day coming-of-age ritual when she was 11 years old.
"You run three times a day – at daybreak, noon and dusk – wearing those moccasins," said McCabe. "When you run, you run farther and farther each time signifying that you can push yourself harder and harder each time with that personal strength and endurance."
After running miles in the shoes, she didn't expect walking across a stage would prove so difficult.
"I'm completely surprised by all this," she said.
This weekend, McCabe started an online petition on change.org and already has more than 1,500 signatures of support. Her mother also got involved by appealing the North Point High School principal's decision to the superintendent's office.
"It shouldn't have come to this," said Jacquetta Swift. "It should have been a no-brainer kind of thing.”
She will meet with the Charles County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent on Tuesday, just two days before her daughter is set to graduate.
A spokesperson for the school district said it would be premature to comment on the situation before a final decision is made.
McCabe said while she loves her high school, it has not been easy being Native American in a place where she is definitely in the minority.
"I've had a ton of people come up to me and say, 'I didn't even know native people, Native Americans still existed,'" she said.
She is hoping to proudly walk in the shoes of her ancestors as she takes such a big step on Thursday.
"It is a part of our culture and part of who we are," said McCabe. "So it's very important to me."