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.