Saturday was Jacob Koscinski’s big day. His whole family, many from out of town, saw the Charleston, S.C., student graduate from his Christian-based home-school program with a 4.89 grade-point average and the coveted honor of summa cum laude.
His mother, Cara Koscinski organized a graduation party for her 18-year-old son. For the occasion, she ordered a cake online from her nearest grocery store, Publix, which lets customers build their own cakes complete with a customized inscription, which they enter into a message box marked “cake message option.”
Carefully, she typed in the words she wanted on the cake: “Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude class of 2018.”
Publix’s online system was unhappy with the word “cum.”
In Latin, cum is the preposition “with,” as in summa cum laude, “with the highest distinction.” To the little box on the Publix website, however, the word meant something else and its strict algorithm, vigilant for naughty words, returned a message that said “profane/special characters not allowed.” Cum, which contains no special characters, was deemed profane.
In place of cum, three hyphens appeared, as they do for some other profanities in family newspapers: Summa ––– Laude.
The Post replicated her experience and got the same result:
But there was still hope. The Publix form included a section for “special instructions” for the bakery, in which Koscinski explained that Summa Cum Laude was a Latin term for high academic honor and was not profane. She included a link to a website explaining the meaning of summa cum laude and said she didn’t think much about it afterward.
Cake day arrived.
Koscinski said she was so busy preparing things for the celebration, that she sent her husband and sister to the store to get some last minute items and to pick up the cake.
When they returned, everyone gathered around the cake. When they opened the box, there it was: “Congrats Jacob! Summa — Laude Class of 2018.”
Jacob was “absolutely humiliated,” Koscinski said to The Post. “It was unbelievable. I ordered the special graduation edition cake. I can’t believe I’m the first one to ever write “Summa Cum Laude” on a cake.
Koscinski said she then had to explain why the grocery store censored “cum” from Jacob’s cake to her 70-year-old mother.
Jacob didn’t eat much of the cake after that but his mother says the chocolate and vanilla cake was delicious.
Koscinski called Publix on Monday and explained the situation to the assistant manager. She said she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else in the future. Publix offered to remake the cake. She declined.
“No,” she said, “you only graduate once.”
Publix gave her a $70 refund for the cake and a store gift card.
But as The Washington Post test revealed, that particular “c” word remains profane by Publix standards.
Jacob can now laugh about the situation and is focused on getting ready to attend Wingate University in North Carolina in the fall, where he received a full academic scholarship.
“Maybe I should have just gotten him his favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream instead,” Koscinski said.
More from Morning Mix