Valedictorian Denied Diploma

A valedictorian was unjustly punished after using the word “hell” in her graduation speech.

Despite teenagers’ frequent use of swear words, schools have been attempting to control profanity and negativity from their students by implementing new consequences, such as student conferences or suspensions. However, there is a certain boundary to these consequences, a boundary that Prague High School in Oklahoma has undoubtedly overstepped by taking away a right all competent and accomplished students fully deserve: receiving their hard earned diploma. Instead of taking such extreme measures, the Prague High School should keep in mind that it cannot punish students for exercising their freedom of speech.

The high school’s 18-year-old valedictorian, Kaitlin Nootbaar, was honored with the opportunity to deliver a graduation speech. According to her father, the graduate shared in her speech how her aspirations for her future career had changed over her four years in high school. When others wondered what she wanted to pursue as she approached graduation, she answered, “How the hell do I know? I’ve changed my mind so many times.” Although her fellow students were laughing and applauding in response to her tastefully colloquial speech, her principal, David Smith, was not.

When Nootbaar and her father visited the school office to pick up her diploma, the principal refused and explained that there was a problem. Smith was not pleased with Nootbaar’s profanity in her speech and demanded that Nootbaar issue a written apology to him and the faculty members of Prague High School.

Not only is the school making an unnecessarily extreme decision over a word uttered in a speech largely enjoyed by the audience, but it is also depriving the valedictorian of her freedom of speech. A student should not have to feel remorseful about what he or she says, especially if it no harm was intended. Nootbaar was not using “hell” to offend or affront a specific person or a group of people. The straight-A student told her parents that her choice of words were inspired by another graduation speech given in the “Twilight” movie “Eclipse,” and that she was simply expressing her frustration and uncertainty about her future.

Even after making their absurd demand for an unnecessary apology, the school and the administrative board could not fully justify their decision. The superintendent claimed that the valedictorian used inappropriate language for a graduation exercise. Despite this claim, Nootbaar should not be punished for exercising her freedom of speech. Prague High School should either provide reasonable explanation for its offensive actions or award Kaitlin Nootbaar the diploma she earned, in order to rectify their unjustifiable action.