A graduating high school senior had his diploma withheld for about two days because he refused to read a speech given to him by administrators and instead read the speech he had taken the time and care to write himself.
According to the Washington Post, Marvin Wright, president of the Southwest Edgecombe High School senior class, spent two weeks working on his graduation speech. However, on the day he was meant to give the speech, the principal of the Pinetops, N.C., high school, with no explanation given, told him that he would instead have to deliver a short-paragraph speech that had been prepared by administrators at the school.
“I felt robbed of a chance to say my own words,” the 18-year-old told the Post.
However, encouraged by his mother, classmates and teacher, Wright decided to give his speech anyway. So when he arrived onstage later Friday, he pushed aside the folder that contained the school’s prepared remarks and whipped out his cellphone on which his own address was stored.
As the Post notes, in video of the incident, the principal, Craig Harris, can be seen turning to another staff member and whispering in what appears to be disapproval as soon as Wright begins his own speech.
However, Wright’s speech goes off without a hitch, with the audience clapping, cheering and laughing.
Everything seemed fine after that—that is, until all of the students went to line up to receive their official diplomas. Wright’s was missing, and his senior adviser told him that the principal had removed it because he had read the wrong speech, the Post reports.
“All my friends were outside with their big yellow folders taking pictures, and I was still inside, trying to get my diploma,” Wright told the Post. “I was really hurt and embarrassed, basically humiliated.”
Wright and his mother, Jokita Wright, blasted the school for censoring a student’s words and then retaliating. When his mother complained to the principal, it was explained to her that her son had missed a deadline to submit the speech to the school. Marvin Wright said that he never heard about any deadline.
It took another two days before he got his diploma, when the principal dropped it off at his home at the request of the superintendent.
The Edgecombe County Schools superintendent later called Wright to apologize about the way the situation had been handled.
“I have communicated with the family to apologize on behalf of the school,” Superintendent John Farrelly said in a statement. “The diploma never should have been taken from the student.”
Farrelly said there were no issues with the content of Wright’s speech, but that it was more of a concern that he used his cellphone and, of course, decided to change course at the last minute.
“There is an expectation that is communicated to all graduation speakers that the prepared and practiced speech is the speech to be delivered during the ceremony,” Farrelly said. “That was made extremely clear to the speakers. The student did not follow those expectations.”
Wright said that when he was elected senior class president and was told he would have to write a graduation speech, he wasn’t given any guidance. He merely asked for advice from the previous year’s senior class president and listened to commencement speeches online to get ideas. He said that his English teacher gave him a thumbs-up for the speech, and then he left a copy of his speech on his principal’s desk for review the day of the ceremony.
Nonetheless, the administrators handed him their own remarks to deliver.
Despite the setback, the Post reports, Wright did get his diploma just in time for when he needed it most. On Monday, he officially committed to entering the U.S. Navy—scheduled to report for duty on Oct. 10—with plans to study pediatric surgery.
Read more at the Washington Post.