Monday, June 1, 2015

A Valedictory Address Censored

As a teacher and someone who has dealt with graduation speeches before, I'm not sure what to think about the story of a Colorado charter school who refused to let a class valedictorian, Evan Young, deliver a graduation speech in which he planned to come out as gay.  I read the the statement of the school, but yet, I also know firsthand that school’s do lie.  However, I have not read the students speech and therefore cannot compare the two.

Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont claims that the speech would have been disruptive and  the first draft also included ridiculing comments about faculty and students and was condescending toward the school. School attorney Barry Arrington said in the statement that a graduation speech is not the time for a student to "push his personal agenda on a captive audience.". They also claim that he didn't follow the dress code for the ceremony by removing the sleeves of his graduation gown.  Evan, who is 18, said he agreed to make suggested changes to the speech he planned to deliver on May 16 at the commencement ceremony for Twin Peaks. But he refused to remove the disclosure about his sexuality.

"My main theme is that you're supposed to be respectful of people, even if you don't agree with them. I figured my gayness would be a very good way to address that," he said.  He and his father, Don Young, said they weren't notified until just a few minutes before the ceremony that Evan wouldn't be allowed to speak or be recognized as valedictorian.  This is where I think the school made a misstep.  Whether they allowed Evan to give his speech or not, it is inappropriate not to recognize the valedictorian, especially if they continued to recognize the achievements of other students.  Evan Young said he previously emailed a speech with other suggested changes to school officials, but they contend that he didn't submit a revised version.

Before the ceremony, Don Young said school principal PJ Buchmann called and said the speech was a problem because his son had mentioned another student's name and planned to come out as gay.  If this is the case, then the school is making excuses beyond Evan’s disclosure of his sexuality, but are really only bothered by him coming out in his speech.  They could have simply told the Evan that the entire theme of the speech was inappropriate and that he could not mention another student by name. I've known quite a number of valedictorians in my lifetime, I was one myself, and all of the ones I have known made speeches of encouragement.  If the theme is what Evan said it was, then it was an appropriate theme, and his disclosure of his sexuality should not have been an issue.

In my opinion (and Evan is probably a little at fault, but he's also young), the school handled this situation in the worst way possible.  The speech should have been prepared weeks in advance and Evan and the faculty should have had plenty of time to revise it.  However, it appears that the school chose to wait until the last minute, so that they would not receive negative publicity that might have forced their hand in allowing Evan to give his speech.  Don Young said he and his wife didn't know their son was gay. They were initially sympathetic to Buchman's objections to the speech, considering there would be young children at the event, but did not like how Buchman handled the matter.

I have to agree with the Young’s.  No matter the school's reservations about he speech, they handled this in an underhanded way that deprived a young man of the honors that he no doubt worked very hard to achieve.


SteveXS said...

I'm sure there are some charter schools that put academic excellence before anything else, but from what I've read, many are at least questionable in their purposes and goals. It's possible my point of view is influenced by growing up in the South where re-segregation was always being attempted.

Joe said...

I completely agree with you. As someone who was just recently a teacher at one of those segregation academies (though we'd become somewhat more diverse), academics is usually not their top priority.

JiEL said...


From a Canadian point of view and more from a Quebecois point of view, this is a BIG outrage to «liberty of expression» and even more, a big offense to ALL libeties in our country.

We have a constitutional «Liberty Act» that says that in Canada, you cannot be bullied for your «race, religion or sexual orientation». It garanties our right to be what ever we are and believe in our lives.

What is about USA that you don't have that IN your Constitution..
Well, as always, I believe that as long as in USA you don't seperate RELIGION and CIVIL RIGHTS and POLITICS, you'll have to struggle for ANY liberties of all kind ..

Just think of the civil rights of your black people and it'll give you an idea of the complexity of the issues... Still, in USA and despite you have a black president, many blacks are still segregated... This is also very unfair from a Canadian point of view.

USA has so many of those issues and it's not going to be easy for you to get rid of those with so many «religious biggots» in your country.
Seems that «God bless America» but only the «straight-white-wealthy» people...

I'm proud to live in a REAL FREE country.

JL from Montréal, Province of Québec, Canada

Jay M. said...

Without seeing the actual speech, and its final submitted revision, it's hard to make an informed opinion here.

I would argue that perhaps matters of a personal nature, such a disclosure about sexuality, might better be saved for other venues. Of course, his outing by the school to his parents is his own fault. (RB did at least tell his parents at 11:30PM the night before he came out to his school at an assembly where he gave a speech about bullying, and outing himself fit in perfectly - the school administrators knew he intended to.) I believe that you DO need to consider your audience.

Charter schools tend to be fairly liberal, being released from most of the bureaucracy of typical government schools, so short of a truly tight administration, and a lack of time (we don't know when the speech and revisions were initially presented), perhaps this young man really did cross the line.

As is almost always the case, there are two sides to the story, neither clearly delineated. I wonder if this would even be a blip if the valedictorian's sexuality were not a part of the equation.

Peace <3